There was a time when you could tell the arrival of election season by seeing the roads in front of your place all dug up to apparently make way for ‘development’ or ‘achhe din’.
Now, you have to count the number of movies being released.
Before we even recovered from watching Vivek Oberoi as our honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi in that particular trailer, we have another Vivek, craftily entering the market with his Tashkent Files, to be released on April 12 — a day after the first phase of Lok Sabha Elections 2019 takes place in 20 states, including Uttar Pradesh.
India’s second Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was also from Uttar Pradesh, to be specific, from Mughalsarai, which was situated in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh when he was born. And he died in Tashkent, which was then part of the USSR, but is now in Uzbekistan.
A prolonged political slugfest went on over his mysterious death — Vivek Agnihotri’s Tashkent Files draws its sustenance from this.
The trailer reveals a lot — that a journalist, essayed by Shweta Basu, wants to pursue the truth of Shastri’s death, that an inquiry committee is debating whether Shastriji was possibly ‘killed’ by Congress insiders because he possibly had some news of Netaji, etc., etc.
Most importantly, the trailer reveals how a deceased PM can become a live political issue.
Lal Bahadur Shastri’s mysterious death is a vast subject of study. There are many books, RTI applications, writings, investigative pieces et al which only add to the mystery. And this mystery won’t be unveiled unless the crucial files pertaining to Shastri’s death are de-classified.
What we all know is this — on January 10, 1966, Shastri and the then-President of Pakistan, Mohammed Ayub Khan, signed the Tashkent Declaration — which brought an end to the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965.
As Anuj Dhar, writer of Your Prime Minister Is Dead, has recounted, after signing the accord, Shastri reached his villa. Late in the evening, he had a light meal prepared by Jan Mohammad, the personal cook of TN Kaul, the Indian ambassador to Moscow. At 11.30 pm, Shastri had a glass of milk.
“Around 1.25am on January 11, Shastri woke up, coughing severely. The room he was in had no phone or intercom. So he walked out to another room to tell his staff to inform his personal doctor RN Chugh. By the time Dr Chugh arrived, Shastri was dying. The symptoms were of a heart attack. There was not much Dr Chugh could do now. He began to cry. ‘Babuji, you did not give me enough time.’ Shastri took Lord Ram's name and he was gone.”
When his body was brought home, his wife alleged he had been poisoned. There were ‘unexplained’ marks on his body. Four years after, it was disclosed that a cut in his stomach was made for introducing embalming fluid in the body.
For the hashtag and WhatsApp University generation, these are stories belonging to the wrinkled pages of the past. Now, they will know Vivek Agnihotri's version of the story. Soon, we will have new WhatsApp forwards on Lal Bahadur Shastri.
But then, it's absolutely up to us whether we believe in them — and forward them. Or just see the movie as simply a tale, a narrative.
The casting is strong and stark.
If Vivek Agnihotri and Pallavi Joshi lend a powerful political character to the film, there is Naseeruddin Shah as well — and there is Mithun Chakraborty, who took a long sabbatical from both his political and entertainment profiles, following the Saradha scam.
Talk about mysteries.