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Conspiracy of Silence?

Film: The Tashkent Files

Cast: Shweta Prasad, Mithun Chakraborty, Pallavi Joshi, Pankaj Tripathi

Directed by: Vivek Agnihotri

Duration: 2 hrs 20 mins

Rating: * * 1/2

That India’s second prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri died under questionable circumstances in Tashkent is something that has been doing the rounds for ages now. It is only in the last couple of decades that more evidence came out suggesting that there could have possibly been more than meets the eye. Even back in 2009, an RTI application was denied information and the PMO had cited “exemption from disclosure on the plea that it could harm foreign relations”

The Tashkent Files directed by Vivek Agnihotri takes all those theories into account and dramatises them into a film. The problem is that occasionally, there are too many dramatic moments – it works when it sticks to the facts that have been in the public domain but not everyone is aware of it.

Filmmakers have taken liberties with conspiracy theories – Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991) was one and at home, Meghna Gulzar’s Talwar (2015) made no bones about the controversial murder case.

Given that a fair bit of research has gone into the making of the film, this film works when it is weaving theories. It also strives to make a case of ideology from the director’s point of view. It won’t be an easy watch for those with strong leanings and biases – after all, no preacher would like to be told that his beliefs and gods were false.

Propaganda is not about only about praising or embarrassing someone – it is about doing both but the intention has a specific goal. Given that some of the audience broke into applause after the film goes to show that the filmmaker succeeded. Of all the films labelled as ‘propaganda films’ lately, this one tops the list primarily because it does it in a clever manner.

What doesn’t work in this film is the cinematic elements, starting with the characters and their motives. Ragini Phule (Shweta Basu Prasad of Makdee fame) is a modern-day journalist who is a part of the rat race of ‘breaking news’ and TRP’s. She badly needs a scoop else she could be relegated to the “arts and culture” section. A not so deep throat gives her a tip about Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death and before you know, she is a part of the committee formed by the government to look into the matter. The committee has the kind of people that you see often on television – an activist who runs an NGO (Mandira Bedi), an ex RAW chief (Prakash Belawadi), a bureaucrat (Rajesh Sharma) from the Archives, a cynical scientist (Pankaj Tripathi) who at one point is called ‘racist’, and a know-all bidi smoking historian (Pallavi Joshi). Then there is the chairman (Mithun Chakraborty), a seasoned politician. The proceedings take place in 12 Angry Men kind of fashion but every time the camera steps out of the room, it is as effective as a thousand rupee note. Ragini’s meeting with a spy (Vinay Pathak) in Tashkent looks more like a spoof than anything else.

The crux of the film borrows heavily from former KGB agent Vasili Mitrokhin’s voluminous The Mitrokhin Archive which was published in the ’90s after he defected to the UK – the claims in it were damning to many countries including India and the bottom line was that the KGB spies were running riot in the country during the ’70s.

Of all the characters, Ragini is the weakest – overnight she becomes a crusader for the truth. The background music gets hyper very often adding precious little to the proceedings.


Hell, boy!

Film: Hellboy

Cast: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich

Directed by: Neil Marshall

Duration: 2 hrs

Rating: * 1/2


Since there were two Hellboy films (2004/08) in this century and that too by Guillermo Del Toro, there was absolutely no need for this remake. It is more violent and certainly more brain and butt-numbing for sure.

Films like these always make you wonder, who in their right senses at the studios green lights such films that have trash written all over it?

Comic book heroes have been raking in money but not those who are overdoing it.

Hellboy is not meant for boys or girls for that matter – in an effort to be ‘different’ they have pitched so much gore that you never know who will get hacked and how.

David Harbour takes over from Ron Perlman to play the lead role and the looks of the character are not particularly appealing. A sorceress (Milla Jovovich) called Nimue the Blood Queen (what a moniker to have) was nicely chopped off and buried by King Arthur of the Excalibur fame. Now there is a move to put the pieces back and bring her to life again. Hellboy, along with his friend Alice (Sasha Lane) have to get their act together and save the world. On paper, it may have had some appeal but visually, the film is dull. Even the action sequences are perfunctory leaving nothing to admire in this hellish adventure.


The Fault in Their Stars

Film: Five Feet Apart

Cast: Haley Lu Richardson

Directed by: Cole Sprouse

Duration: 1hr 55 mins

Rating: * * 1/2


In 2014 came The Fault in Our Stars which made $300 million, almost 30 times its production budget. The story of an ill teenager falling in love was also replicated in Everything, Everything (2017) and here we have Five Feet Apart, another sloppy sentimental love story of two teenagers suffering severely from cystic fibrosis.

The one thing that has stood out in these films has been the performances, particularly from the female lead. The young man mostly has to look crush-worthy.

Set mostly in a hospital, there is Stella (Haley Lu Richardson, superb) who is in line for a lung transplant – till then she has to take a dozen pills a day and keep a safe distance from others, six feet is recommended. During her spare time, she does a video blog and generally, she is a vivacious person.  Enter Will (Cole Sprouse), another patient in the hospital and it is crush at first sight for Stella. It won’t help if they fall in love instantly – the guy first acts tough and indifferent only to mend his ways later.

They fall in love but they are both sick and there can be no physical contact – but you know that the screenplay will give them a dramatic opportunity to overcome that and it does. There is emotional manipulation, every now and then. Often, they remind each other that they are dying or that they can’t touch each other. You feel for them because of their condition – for their lovey-dovey romance, not so much.


Kitty Kitty Bang Bang

Film: Pet Sematary

Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow

Directed by: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer

Duration: 1 hr  50 mins

Rating: * * 1/2

There are 60 odd adaptations of Stephen King novels which have been made into films and excluding any TV series. It has been a case of more misses than hits though when it comes to cinematic adaptations.

Pet Sematary is one of the more popular works from the writer who is known for his horror stories. It was made into a film in 1989 with a sequel three years later – both films bit the dust.

In this film, Jason Clarke plays Louis, a doctor who has moved to the quiet new property so that he can get more family time with his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), his toddler boy and a young daughter.

As it has happened since Big Bang, whenever a family moves into a new house, strange things start happening. In this case, they first notice a procession of kids wearing masks – it turns out there is a pet cemetery on the property where animals are buried.

John Lithgow plays the neighbour who helps Louis to ‘resurrect’ their cat after it dies. It comes back from the dead but expectedly, everything is not okay with it.

Louis faces another predicament later when another tragedy strikes – his choices are questioned and how. A cat may have nine lives but that doesn’t apply to humans.

For a large part, the film meanders on expected lines without really throwing much to chew upon – it is only towards the end that it gets into top gear. It also resorts to the standard jump scares and sounds, the first of which comes early into the film and from unexpected quarters. But the rest, like most films of this genre you can expect the characters to go to places and do things they are not supposed to.


All You Need Is Love

Film: Wedding Cha Shinema (Marathi with English subtitles)

Cast: Mukta Barve, Shivraj Waichal, Rucha Inamdar, Bhau Kadam

Directed by: Salil Kulkarni

Duration: 2 hrs 17 mins

Rating: * * *


Directed by debutante Salil Kulkarni, Wedding Cha Shinema is an easy going and satisfying outing. It doesn’t break any new ground but stands on its own in a reasonably assured manner. It is like a Rajshree productions film – in fact, it is partly a Rajshree film, as noticed in the opening credits. It has two stories that are interwoven – Urvi (Mukta Barve) is a filmmaker, waiting for that big break. She has a story but there are differences with a potential producer about the ending – she also has a discussion about the audience’s choice of a happy ending, with her cameraman (Bhau Kadam) who prefers to call himself DOP (director of photography). Till she can resolve that, she makes money by taking up smaller assignments, in this case, a pre-wedding video.

The wedding in question is that of Prakash (Shivraj Waichal) and Pari (Rucha Inamdar) – he lives in a small town and looks after the family business, while she is a doctor who is posted there.

The two fall in love and decide to get married even though there is a certain city and village divide between them.

The tone of the film is always lightweight – there are hardly any conflicts and even the manner in which they are handled is easygoing. The writing is admirable for the manner in which the scenes and lines are written. Prakash’s mother (Alka Kubbal) is a well-educated woman, who, out of choice looks after the family than pursue a career.

But during a dinner table conversation, she gives her inputs on a particular business proposition which is taken with all seriousness by the men, implying that the director wants to make a point there. On the whole, this Shinema makes for a pleasant outing.

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