'You will know the forces behind Shastri’s death'

‘Tashkent Files’ maker expects bad reviews; he says ‘every critic in Mumbai can be bought’.

Vivek Agnihotri

Much before its release, it was already assumed by many that Vivek Agnihotri’s latest film, Tashkent Files, is a propaganda film.

There were two reasons for this assumption: one was that the film was releasing during the election season — flanked by a slew of propaganda films across India — with the mysterious death of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri as its crux.

The other being that many people have already slotted Agnihotri as a spokesperson for the Right, or even the BJP, though the filmmaker insists: “I am neither Left-wing nor Right-wing; I am India-wing”.

He told Metrolife that he made the film because it is the “human, moral, legal and democratic right” of every citizen to know the truth.

Agnihotri said the incident had not become the basis for any film in the last 53 years (the death was in 1966) because “in this country, directors are conditioned to think that they should not touch subjects that are political or deal with big people”.

“The journey of a filmmaker in this country begins with a compromise,” he said.

The idea for the film had come to the director during one Gandhi Jayanthi, when he realised that everyone was talking about October 2 only as Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday and not Shastri’s.

Agnihotri put out a tweet reminding his Twitter followers of this fact, and the response he received was a boost enough for him to start thinking about what would become Tashkent Files. He sought to “crowd-source” his research for the film, and the response he received for a call-out “was a life-changing experience”, although he admits 70%-80% of what he got was “junk”.

People put him in touch with the Air Chief Marshal at the time of the 1965 India-Pakistan war, Arjan Singh, and veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar; the latter, Agnihotri said, revealed some things that were in contrast with the stand he had always maintained on the issue.

Both Singh and Nayar passed away before the release of the film.

“Some people led me to KGB secret papers, others led me to the CIA secret papers, but not those that are in the public domain,” Agnihotri said.

“Someone connected Shastri’s death to the Nagarwala incident of 1971 (a financial crime involving the impersonation of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi), and at first, I couldn’t
understand how the two incidents were connected”.

“What happens is that in politics, things keep happening in different places. We never connect them. But if we put them on a chart, the connection appears,” he said.

Agnihotri said there are a few things he came to know this way that he felt should be a part of modern Indian history.

“I took all the gossip and conspiracy theories, and I collated and consolidated them. When you see all these events together in two and a half hours, you will learn about the most important period in India’s history, that is from the 60s till the end of the 70s,” he said.

But he has reservations about the reception that the “truth” will receive: “In the last 70 years, we have made truth so unpopular that even if it comes before you, it looks like a lie,” Agnihotri said.

He predicted at the time of the interview that many media organisations are going to give bad reviews to the film as they are prejudiced against him.

“Every Mumbai film critic can be bought. And to people like Raja Sen (of the Hindustan Times), I openly say ‘you are all corrupt people’,” Agnihotri said.

The filmmaker said Shastri’s family was a part of the journey of making the film as they have been seeking closure for the last five decades.

Asked whether the movie, which is structured as a whodunnit, will point fingers at the perpetrators of the alleged crime, he said, “You will know who the forces behind Shastri’s death are, with evidence.”

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