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The Tashkent Files Review: Vivek Agnihotri’s film dares to question one of India’s biggest alleged political cover-ups

The Tashkent Files raises questions on the mysterious death of India’s 2nd Prime Minister Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri, and seeks to expose a different lie and truth

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the tashkent files review

On the night of January 10, 1966, Independent India’s 2nd Prime Minister Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri, who was in Tashkent (USSR), breathed his last. Apparently he died of a heart attack. There are many theories surrounding his mysterious death. Not everyone was convinced that he had died of natural causes. The conspiracy theory that first floated out was that he had been poisoned that night, the poison administered in his regular nightly thermos of milk. Writer-director Vivek Agnihotri’s The Tashkent Files is a thriller (a disrespectful term to use here really), that raises questions on the circumstances surrounding the mysterious death and dares to actually ask the question, ‘Who Killed Pandit Lal Bahadur Shastri?’ Was it an assassination? A state secret? A devious political cover-up?

What it’s about: The Tashkent Files is about the death of former Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. The film has been written and directed by Vivek Agnihotri and it stars Naseeruddin Shah and Mithun Chakraborty in key roles as current-day politicians. An ambitious young political journalist Raagini Phule (Shweta Basu Prasad), known for ‘faking news’, gets a call from an unknown caller, urging her to look at the case of ‘Who Killed Shastri?’ Desperate for a chance to redeem herself with her seniors, and for a new scoop, she gets into the game set by the caller, who regularly follows up with clues and information about how she could gather evidence to build the story. She is soon trapped in a web of international intrigue, lies and deceit and political cover-ups. When her article hits the news-stands, she is approached by an ageing politico (possibly on his way out of the Government nest) Shyam Sunder Tripathi (Mithun Chakraborty), who then talks to another Minister – PKR Natarajan (Naseeruddin Shah) who has his own secrets and scheming agenda, and they decide to set up an eight-member committee of diverse professionals to establish the truth or falsity of her allegation, 53 years after the PM’s death. It’s a case that still raises doubts in the average mind, and mostly in the minds of the late Shastriji’s family, who are not convinced that he had died a natural death. The girl was a nuisance and a danger. The committee members are as unalike as chalk and cheese, and each one comes in with an agenda of their own, and a lot of past baggage. Scared beyond her wits at the ensuing consequences, but ‘suddenly’ fired by her quest for the ‘truth’, Raagini is unable to pull herself off, even though she wants out of the game. How Raagini tries to get to the truth, the reactions and opinions of the members of the committee, the dangerous game of ‘truth and dare’ she is playing, and what conclusion is eventually arrived at form the 144 minutes that make up the film.

Yay: The subject of the film is its biggest edge. Of national importance, the average Indian citizen is shown the innumerable possibilities and conspiracy theories, that set one’s mind thinking. Yes, it must have come with a price attached, the desire to make this film. And Vivek Agnihotri has already apparently borne the brunt of that with his family, by way of threats to life. A lot of research seems to have gone into the making of this story, it cannot obviously be based on fictional versions. The psychological play of the committee members and their outbursts gives a good insight into human minds and their machinations. The validation by the real sons of the late leader adds some measure of credibility. The characterisations are strong. The supporting actors deliver their roles effectively – Mandira Bedi as Indira Joseph Roy, who runs multiple NGOs. Pallavi Joshi as Aiysha Ali Shah, a strong and opinionated historian, Rajesh Sharma as Omkar Kashyap, Director of the Indian Archives, Vinay Pathak as Mukhtar, the spy who loved India, now hiding in Tashkent, Pankaj Tripathi as Gangaram Jha, a racist, scientific theorist, seeming to appear on the side of logic, Vishwa Mohan Badola as  Kurian Abraham, an ageing Justice of Peace, seeking to reclaim his lost identity, Prakash Belawadi as GK Anantha Suresh, one-time RAW chief, who is suddenly faced with apparently glaring errors of his predecessors, Prashantt Gupta as Virendra Pratap Singh Rana, a highly angry and vocal youth leader. Yusuf Hussain, Ankur Rathee and Mohan Kapoor did okay. One dialogue struck home really hard. When Rana says ‘Yeh desh Nehruji aur Gandhiji ki hai…’ Raagini asks, ‘Shastriji ka kyon nahin?’ In an aside – does anyone even remember that 2nd October is also the birthday of Pandit Lal Bahadur Shastri? This film ensures you will never forget that. Also, the Mitrokhin Archives (of KGB spy and archiver Vasiliy Mitrokhin) merit perusal for interested citizens.

Nay: Of the motley cast, Vinay Pathak is wasted – he is in disguise, and does not have enough of a role for his histrionics though. Achint Kaur is just a glorified ‘moll’ish female presence around Natarajan, saying nothing and doing nothing except smile beatifically. Totally unnecessary. And having Naseer wear a ‘veshti’ in one scene does not give him a South Indian character. Naseeruddin Shah was the disappointment, he just went through the motions. And Mithun Chakraborty, whilst we may have seen politicians like that, was totally over the top with bombastic vocal outbursts and outrageous body language. The music was mostly unnecessary and loud too. The stress was on creating the story, and less on technical excellence. Two-and-a-half hours is loooong.

CineBlitz Verdict: Vivek Agnihotri had stated that The Tashkent Files was going to be the country’s first crowd-sourced thriller. But it is not totally an apolitical film about a political leader, like he claimed. The subject does not allow that. While it is not overtly propagandist, or even inflammatory, it is revelatory that even with so much information in the public domain, the case did not arouse the correct actions five decades ago, and those that did, all connected parties died rather conveniently in road accidents. He must have ruffled a lot of feathers and put fear in a lot of hearts in the course of making this film. While he leaves it to us to decide which theory we want to accept, the depiction effectively has all roads leading to one name and address. Whatever he may or may not achieve at the Box Office, whether people like him or not for his extreme opinions and often offensive views, you have to hand it to Vivek Agnihotri for having the gall to make this film. Zee Studios too has supported him entirely, considering Lal Bahadur Shastri was a personality they had made a film about earlier in 2018 too. Go and watch the film.

Star Rating: 3 stars

Movie Reviews

Mission Mangal review: A ‘Bollywoodized’ movie on India’s most inspirational achievement in space

When you’re watching a film based on your country’s biggest achievement in space, you want to believe everything that you see on screen. I believed some parts but those which I couldn’t, made it a forgettable space movie.

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Mission Mangal review

Rating:

After watching the trailer of Mission Mangal, it was quite clear that the film is going to be a Bollywood movie full of dialogue-baazi. And the movie was much like what was expected. It begins in 2010 at ISRO with Tara Shinde (Vidya Balan) messing up the launch of a GSLV rocket nicknamed ‘Fat Boy’. Her boss Rakesh Dhawan (Akshay Kumar) takes the responsibility for the failure and is transferred to India’s Mars Orbiter Mission which might never see the light of the day. Tara convinces Rakesh to take up this challenge and that it is possible to go to Mars according to her ‘Puri theory’.

As the story progresses, we’re introduced to more such home science theories that give ‘Eureka moments’ to each scientist working on the mission. The opening credits mention R. Balki (Cheeni Kum, Shamitabh, Paa) as the writer & creative director of the film. So, you automatically expect to see something marvelous. Only an ad-filmmaker can fit in so much information about a stellar space achievement in two hours – you’d expect that. But nothing much of that sorts happen here. It maybe based on India’s greatest achievement in space, but Mission Mangal is still a Bollywood movie that tries hard to dumb down the intelligence.

Mission Mangal Trailer:

There’s less space, science and more home science and personal stories of the scientists – to make you care for the characters. But that helps only a little. An entire first half goes into setting up the whole thing. You go into interval anticipating that they will get to the point now. They do, but in a haphazard manner with a song and dance as the scientists giving a makeover to the Mars department. Also dealing with the problems in their personal lives as they crack the Mars mission.

It is difficult to make science and intelligence look interesting. It’s fine to break it down in simpler language with the help of analogies of cricket and daily life to make the audience understand. But the simplification is overdone in Mission Mangal.

This is Balki’s second film after Padman where he is telling a story of real-life visionaries and trying to reach out to a wider audience, majority of them being the masses. Massy dramatization is not new to the Indian audience and we love it. Director Rajkumar Hirani’s (Munnabhai MBBS, 3 Idiots, PK) filmography is a prime example of that.

What hurts Mission Mangal is that the achievements of the ISRO scientists have been reduced to just the ideas that popped in from a sailing ship on a cushion cover, frying puris, recycling plastic, and the great Indian hack of rebooting a system to make it work. Maybe, all or most of it could have happened during the mission. But unfortunately, it wasn’t shown smartly enough on screen for one to be convinced.

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Arjun Patiala Review: Diljit Dosanjh – Kriti Sanon’s comedy tickles the funny bone, but only in parts

Arjun Patiala Review: Diljit Dosanjh’s bromance with Varun Sharma wins more hearts than his romance with Kriti Sanon

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Star rating:

Arjun Patiala
Cast:
Diljit Dosanjh (Arjun Patiala), Varun Sharma (Onidda Singh), Kriti Sanon (Ritu Randhawa), Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub (Sakool), Pankaj Tripathi, Seema Pahwa (MLA Prapti Makkar), Ronit Roy (Amarjeet Gill)
Director: Rohit Jugraj Chauhan
Producers: Dinesh Vijjan (Maddock Films) Bhushan Kumar (T-Series)

The makers of Arjun Patiala have been unabashed about admitting that their film is a spoof on all things filmy. They even had their promos highlight a checklist of all the kitsch formulas they’ve added in their film, that every Bollywood movie usually boasts of, including an item song. With the makers cracking jokes on their kind of cinema and their own film, Arjun Patiala claims to be a fun outing. So does the Diljit Dosanjh – Kriti Sanon and Varun Sharma starrer turn out to be one? Read on to find out:

What Arjun Patiala is all about:

Arjun Patiala is a cop on a mission. He is also the fictional hero of a story being narrated to a prospective Bollywood producer by his writer-director. Arjun’s mission is to fulfill his mentor DSP Amarjeet Gill’s dream of making his district crime-free. The super-goofy Onidda Singh is his loyal constable and together they make a plan to cleanse their district Ferozepur (in Punjab) of all criminals by getting them to fight and kill each other.

Besides, the mission, Arjun is equally passionate about his drinks and also has a weakness for women, though he is very clear that he respects women a lot. “Maa behen ki izzat karni chahiye, unki izzat ki maa behen nahin,” he sermonises two local goons who are caught eve-teasing. (Yes, eye roll moment here!) He soon falls in love with Ritu Randhawa who is an ambitious TV reporter for a local channel. Righteous in her approach, she is against Arjun’s way of getting rid of criminals and ultimately decides to expose him. Also involved in the happenings are MLA Prapti and the dozen goons whom Arjun gets killed. One of the goons is Sakool, who has his own style of operating. There’s also Sunny Leone who comes in for a cameo and an item song with the hero and his side-kick. How Arjun Patiala finally accomplishes his mission without losing his lady-love is the story? And if the story will become a hit if made into a film is the real question?

Yay:

The light-hearted entertainer is funny in several parts in the first half. Diljit is cute and exudes a charming innocence which wins audience hearts. Varun Sharma is a riot! Their easy-going bromance is fun to watch and together they pull off even the silliest of dialogues with laughter. Kriti plays her pretty card to the max and is a delight to watch. Her expressions are a strength here and try to make up for the otherwise drab lines. However, a weak story fails her as it does the others too. Her chemistry is adorable with Diljit, though we think the bromance scores more than the romance. Ronit Roy aces it effortlessly too. Overall, performance-wise the film’s a hoot. But it’s the other aspects that spoil it for us to be frank!

The music could’ve been a few notches higher and even Sunny Leone’s item number is easily forgettable and best forgotten! The situational comedy and dialogues work in some parts, but that is largely due to the actors and not much credit can be given to the writers here. The film is a family entertainer and clean comedy is a relief though just too childish in parts.

Nay:

The forced songs could’ve been totally avoided. The second half is a huge let-down. Right from the family and a rather weird grandfather – a victim of bad prosthetics make-up – to the entire storyline, it’s a graph taking a sudden dip. It’s so silly that you can’t wait for the film to wrap up and the climax is equally bungled up. The entire showing off ropes as in a badly made film, isn’t really funny anymore as the makers have used it already in the trailers. In the film it fails to make an impact. Also the entire scene of a drunk Diljit talking to a dead Varun is over-the-top!

 CineBlitz Verdict:

The film does have its humorous moments. The actors are worth a watch, but unsupported by a strong story or lines that pack a punch their performances fail to reach the level where they’d be called amazing! Varun Sharma is so effortlessly funny and with Diljit his energies bounce off really well. Watch it for the bromance!

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Judgementall Hai Kya Review: Rajkummar Rao’s quirky thriller is sinfully dark, edgy and twisted!

Judgementall Hai Kya Review: Good performances, Prakash Kovelamudi’s brilliant direction and Kanika Dhillon’s crisp dialogues make this taut thriller a must-watch   

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Star rating:

Whodunnits are a tricky affair in cinema. It’s not often that one sees a filmmaker ace in serving a deliciously whipped thriller that’ll keep you guessing and engaged right till the end. This breed of filmmakers is rarer still in Bollywood. Today the challenge in the genre also lies in battling the constant threat and fear of the ending being leaked, revealed or unraveled, not in the climax scene on the big screen, but via the chats and messages on the phone screens that travel faster than the word-of-mouth! However, master filmmakers figured out an aeon ago that the true victory lies in making a film that would draw an audience even if they know how it ends (you know the journey being as much fun as the joy of reaching the destination). That obviously explains the repeat value of the greats in the genre. Closer home, Prakash Kovelamudi has ventured into Bollywood tapping this very genre with his whodunnit Judgementall Hai Kya. So, does this Ekta Kapoor-produced thriller starring Rajkummar Rao pass the litmus test? Read on to find out:

What Judgementall Hai Kya is all about:

After witnessing her parents’ accidental deaths as a child, Bobby (Kangana Ranaut) grows up to be a complex and layered adult suffering from acute psychosis. In fact, she is required to take regular medication to keep it in check. A professional dubbing artist, she tends to internalise and obsess over the female characters she dubs for to such an extent that she starts believing that she is really them and starts seeing herself in their situations.

But that’s not all. Wanting to be them, she finds an easy way out by getting herself clicked in those avatars or getting herself photoshopped in others. She also has another quirk! She loves origami, which she only does using newspaper cuttings of cases of rape, domestic violence or abuse. She even does a brief stint in an asylum readily after attacking a senior colleague who tries to make a sexual advance. She is also somewhat wary of men and looks at them suspiciously. And through it all, bearing her idiosyncrasies is her boyfriend Varun (Hussain Dalal). On her return from the mental asylum, a young married couple Keshav and Rima (Rajkummar Rao and Amyra Dastur) move in as her tenants. A death follows and Bobby is convinced that Keshav is the killer. But is he really? Or is it her psychosis taking an ugly grip over her reality and distorting facts? There starts the mystery.

Yay:

One of the initial disclaimers at the start of the film mentioned that no animals were harmed in the making. And also that the cockroach in the film is shown using the CGI effect. Well, the cockroach bit had us intrigued. And from that moment on, the film has been one taut thriller keeping us on the edge-of-our-seat right till the end. To begin with, we are blown over by the fantastic performances of the lead actors. Rajkummar Rao in a slightly more macho zone is super-impressive and his chemistry with Amyra is sizzling hot. He is a delight on screen and proves that he can fit any role with ease and to perfection. Amrita Puri (Bobby’s cousin sister) has also done well.

The surprise package and one of the best things about the film is Hussain Dalal who plays the ‘out-of-love-luck’ boyfriend hilariously well. At one point, he and Bobby are shown grocery-shopping and discussing potatoes where she tells him to be as adjustable as the vegetable. Be like aloo, he is told. His equation with Bobby is just too funny and he’s also got the best share of the dialogues. Also there’s the scene when he complains to the cops (Satish Kaushik and Brajesh Kala) about an unused condom lying in his pocket for over two years. He just shines through his scenes. The two actors – Satisk and Brajesh – are comical and add to the zing. Jimmy Shergill once again charms effortlessly!

The actors apart, the two real stars of the film – the brilliant direction (Prakash Kovelamudi) and the cracker dialogues (Kanika Dhillon). The dark psychological thriller is helmed to near-perfection and not a single dialogue that won’t get a reaction. Take a bow there Kanika Dhillon, we’d give an extra star just for her writing. Every dialogue and its delivery hits home. The stark nature of Bobby’s mental illness and the intensity is balanced subtly with humour, twists and delicious turns. The director knew exactly what he was doing and the deft handling of sensitive issues shows his grip on the craft. The references to Ramayana present an interesting take too.

The sound design, lights and the music enhance the story and are used effectively. The renditions of the hit song Tauba tauba kya hoga are timed perfectly and used really well through the film.

Nay:

Well, frankly there isn’t much we’d want to see changed. But there are some parts in the first half that seemed a bit stretched and then towards the climax some parts seemed just too rushed. Some part also got a bit confusing. That spoilt the fun by a few degrees.

CineBlitz Verdict:

One of the best imports from the South is undoubtedly director Prakash Kovelamudi. He’s aced the genre as a master storyteller and the suspense holds strong right till the end. The elements of humour, drama, mystery and Bobby’s world – all blend into each other seamlessly. If 2018 had Andhadhun, 2019 has Judgementall Hai Kya. The quirkiness of the narrative interlaced with dark humour and gritty moments is a refreshing change and it resonates throughout the film. The madness of the characters is well-portrayed. Rajkummar Rao is a treat to watch on screen. The twists and turns are unpredictable and keep you hooked right till the end. Overall, it’s one crazy fun-ride with a cat-and-mouse-chase you wouldn’t want to miss. This sinfully dark and twisted fare is gripping and gets our thumbs up!

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