Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri, second Prime Minister of independent India, died in Tashkent, Uzbekistan shortly after signing the Tashkent agreement, formally ending the Indo-Pakistan 1975 war. When his mortal remains were brought to India, his body was blue, swollen and there were cuts. The needle of suspicion gave birth to doubts if Shastri was murdered. Who killed Shastri? This very question forms the basis of Vivek Agnihotri’s 2019 film The Tashkent Files. The mystery movie chronicles the conspiracy theories surrounding Shastri’s death. In an exclusive conversation, the director opens up about his idea behind the film, chasing commercial stars for the lead roles and more. Read excerpts from our exclusive conversation with Vivek below.
Q. What inspired you to make The Tashkent Files?
What has happened in India, there is only one narrative. This was a mystery for 50 years and you don’t know the truth about your own Prime Minister’s death. Tomorrow if something like this happens, nobody will find out. I want to make the youth aware of the fact that you don’t have a #RightToTruth in our democracy. That’s how the idea came along.
Q. The movie sparked a debate…
It started a debate around #RightToTruth. I was recently invited to IIM – Ahmedabad. They have included this film as an official case study. There is no Indian film included in a management course’s curriculum so this is a very,very big thing. There is nothing in this film which has been done before including the format of having eight people in a closed room. The movie has everything people said one shouldn’t do – like never make a film on a political figure, we released the film without advertising. It was released in only 250 screens and went on to run for 100 days. Ever since it released on ZEE5, it is number #1. It received so much appreciation everywhere. We broke all norms, every single rule of filmmaking. Secondly, I believe that if you make a film with a lot of sacrifice, honesty, and sincerity, people sense it and the universe rewards you.
Q. Making a film like this wouldn’t have been easy…
It took a lot of time, we kept researching for three years. Then releasing it was such a difficult thing. I am thankful to Subhash Chandra Ji because he agreed to release the film when all the big production houses had turned it down. I got so many legal cases against me, death threats. The critics then refused to review the film. Everybody said the film won’t run for more than five days, but despite all big releases, the film ran for 100 days.
Q. What about the scenes that never made to the film?
When we made the film, it was a long film. When you have such great actors, they improvise. We felt it was important to shoot every possible detail. We had three and a half hours of footage and then finally some two hours were finalized. The deleted scenes, in fact, are also becoming popular. The success of the film on ZEE5 gave me confidence, to release the deleted scenes.
There is one scene which I will release later. It’s about the Nagarwala case. I realized it’s a big subject and a discussion in itself altogether. I didn’t want to waste it in this film, so I deleted it. I plan to make a film around that, sometime.
Q. Did you always want to cast the same actors who were a part of the film?
When I was writing it, slowly the actors came in my mind. Later, I was sure that only the people who played the roles could have done it, except for Shweta Basu Prasad and Pallavi Joshi’s role. I never knew who is going to play Ragini. I went after commercial, big actresses. But Pallavi told me to do that, let’s not make the film if you are going to get a commercial star she said. I was chasing some bigwigs for Shweta’s role, one of them had even confirmed. However, I thought of not going ahead because then nobody will talk about Shastri, they will instead focus on her airport look, gym look. In retrospect, it was a great decision. We needed a person who can exactly deliver the emotion.
Then again, no one was ready to sit on a wheelchair for the whole film, I looked at Pallavi for that character and she came onboard.
Q. What is your personal takeaway from The Tashkent Files?
If you make something with 100% honesty, it doesn’t matter whether people support you or not, you have money or not, ultimately the audience will lap it up. Also, always stick to your guns. Never give up.
Watch the trailer of The Tashkent Files here:
Meanwhile, wishing you all a very Happy Ganesh Chaturthi! Click here for Ganesh Chaturthi Recipes in Hindi OR
Watch Ganesh Chaturthi Special movies on ZEE5.