Director / Writer- Vivek Agnihotri
Cast- Naseeruddin Shah, Mithun Chakraborty, Shweta Basu Prasad, Mandira Bedi, Pallavi Joshi, Rajesh Sharma, Vinay Pathak,Pankaj Tripathi, Asif Basra, Prakash Belawadi,Achint Kaur, Ankur Rathee
Is a political drama based around the mysterious death of Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent in 1966, hours after he signed the Tashkent Agreement.
( Long Review Alert )
There are two inevitable aspects of of such a review because the film is around a very controversial part of our history. Let me start on purely the cinematic point of view.
The cinematic part :
A young journalist, Ragini ( Shweta Basu Prasad) is desperately looking for a political scoop to save her job profile as a political journalist.
An anonymous phone call, and a dossier full of leads sets her to research and question the mysterious circumstances of death of Shastri ji. The media coverage not only gives her lime light but also forces the home minister ( Naseeruddin) to form a committee for the same to be headed by Tripathi (Mithun) who had been raking this issue. The committee consists of motley of people from different spheres , a socialite running NGOs ( Mandira Bedi) an ex-judge,a historian ( Pallavi Joshi), a scientist ( Pankaj Tripathi), an ex senior official from defence archives( Prakash Belawadi) a media person ( Rajesh Sharma ) etc , apart from Ragini .
The drama starts on a promising note.The committee initiates the proceedings with the majority agreeing to the fact that Shastri ji died a natural death (heart attack).
Fleetingly I got the feel of iconic “Ek ruka huya fainsla”. The few doubts raised by one or two, then lead to vociferous discussions and arguments to and fro and more revelations.
In spite of a promising start , the first half of the film seems lethargic and takes too long for any substantial or lesser known revelations to appear. The very interesting and potentially great ensemble cast somehow seem unable to take hold of their characters and the fault is clearly with the weak writing.
The second half picks up pace gradually. Interspersed with the committee proceedings, we see Ragini making a lot of investigations. But somehow that part was very weak in terms of screenplay. It was disjointed and seemed out of place and jerky.
The film finally concludes with Ragini, after a lot of hurdles and drama, presenting all her investigative findings and facts and defending her right to truth as a young aware citizen. She also defends her right to question the history and parts which are kept away from being publicised.
The Revelations :
Now coming to the more interesting aspect,the political or revelatory aspect which made it an interesting watch for me despite the weak screenplay, sloppy direction and extra length of atleast 30 minutes.
This story’s premise is fictional and so are the characters but the facts presented around the main subject are seemingly well researched with credits to many books, information sought through RTIs and what’s available on the net.
Moving away from the cinematic review, There are many questions raised with prominent one being- Why wasn’t the post mortem done despite many things standing out like sore thumbs in the natural death theory ? Why was no investigation done even though foreign ex agents confessed to the conspiracy theory in their books? Why was Mitrokhin Expose completely ignored ? Very surprising considering it was the top most premier of a country which was to play a very important role in that cold war era ruled by CIA and KGB.
Many suspicious facts have been pointed out like the condition and colour of the body, Shastri ji pointing to his flask when he got sick,his regular cook not being there on that very day, absence of provision of oxygen even though he was a heart patient, sudden change in his accommodation arrangements, the first aid being given to him intra muscular instead of intra venous, mysterious bleeding cuts on his body, his blood stained cap , difference in copies of death report in India and Russia, signatures of two doctors missing in the report that is with India .. and many more.
All the facts that points to anomalies in the natural death theory have been given contrary views / reasons in an apparent bid by film maker to appear unbiased.
But then many real footages of interviews of Shastri ji’s family, journalists and others have been included to add credence to the conspiracy theory.
Referenced and highlighted portions from two very controversial books form a major part of startling revelations. “Mitrokhin Archives” ( KGB) and “ Conversations with a Crow “ (CIA ) .
Honestly speaking,towards the end, with these revelations, the movie does appear unabashedly controversial and it was surprising that it passed right under the nose of EC.
The recommendation :
But keeping all that left/ right leaning aside, keeping aside the cinematic flaws of the movie, what makes it a very intriguing watch is that it did raise some very pertinent questions, shared some very startling revelations by none other than ex CIA and ex KGB top operatives, and also questions the war of narratives which fogs away many historical events that we have known for years now. Were those the facts that happened or just narrated ?
Must watch for those who like political dramas or conspiracy theories.
Score 6 on 10 ( strictly from cinematic point of view)