Movie in Review: The Tashkent Files

Here is one movie that couldn’t have had a better time for release. You are talking about a whole generation who has been kept away from the contribution that the second Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri had in making India what it is today. Centrally, the movie revolves around the death of our beloved Prime Minister in 1966, but aside from that one question, there are a lot of others that we delve throughout the movie. For instance, India is the land of Gandhis and Nehrus; “why not Shastriji’s?”

Given the patriotism that underpins the movie, I’d rate it a decent 4.5 out of five stars. Like always, a detailed review follows…

The movie begins with Shweta Basu Prasad, the Makdi fame, playing Ragini Phule, who migrates from Pune to New Delhi in search of making her life in journalism. She is in dire need for a scoop when a mystery caller asks her questions on Indian political leaders. As a reward for her correct answers, he shares a docket with her that contains the information she requires to create a scooping story.

The movie graduates in its proposition organically for both us and for Ragini. She and her scoop gain the required popularity and overnight she becomes a celebrity. A controversy raises over finding the people or political powers behind the death of Shastriji. For this, a committee is set up. She gets added to the committee as a member and, thus, moves the story to its conclusion.

Here’s what I liked:

The movie is an improved version of the 1957 Hollywood classic 12 Angry Men—also adopted into Ek Ruka Hua Faisla (in 1986)—in so much as it is not filmed in only one room. Not for the sake of wordplay, the movie has a lot of “room” with respect to the capability the characters have. You will notice a lot of headshots and close-up portraits that help you grasp the intensity of the actors.

The actors have been carefully chosen and plotted into the movie. Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri, the director, gives everyone enough depth to contribute positively to the movie. The characters they played are metaphors for roles from journalism to the judiciary and from the public to politics. All of them have done a fantastic job. Their acting talent has assisted the lead actor and the director in bringing out their respective best.

I liked the way Ragini’s character is sketched. Her transformation is visible, not just in terms of moving from finding a scoop to finding the truth, but the better person that she becomes toward the end of the movie. We all undergo that transformation with her.

The director has used a lot of real, authentic footage, news headlines, and quotes a few letters, books, articles, and people (Shastriji’s grandson, for instance). This brings some solid authenticity to the movie and to the alleged assassination of Shastriji. A book named The Mitrokhin Archives finds a prominent mention. It plays an integral part in the movie.

The dialogues are a combination of good one-liners and hard-hitting realities. Given the genre of the movie, that’s a must.

I also liked how subtly the music director has changed the background song “Sab chalta hai” to “sach chalta hai” with the progression of the story. The second half of the movie shares some interesting, unknown facts that help form the micro-plots for you to form the complete picture. The ending is also good because it brings another reality of politics to the surface.

I would have liked Vivek Agnihotri to mind these gaps:

For all the while, it is the director, Vivek, who plays the mystery caller. Toward the end, it is Mithun Chakraborty’s character, Shyam Sundar Tripathi, that is shown to be the mystery caller. I’d have liked either Vivek to play that role or would have used Mithun’s voice for the mystery caller.

I really wanted Ragini Phule to handle the manuscript of “The Tashkent Files” more carefully. I mean who carries it out in the open. If V D Bakshi knew that his life was under threat, why did he do so? Also, why would he have written “The Tashkent Files” on the very front cover of the manuscript? It looks fake. Had the manuscript been unnamed, its pages, torn and turned yellow—like it is with a lot of old books—it would have looked authentic.

Vinay Pathak has considerably underplayed his character. I don’t know for what reason.

Here’s my conclusion:

The Tashkent Files conveys the message it was made to convey; it rather conveys the message a little too strongly.

More than the right-wing versus the left-wing politics, the movie is about the dual that we fight every day in our own minds. The movie leaves us with a revelation about ourselves and about the world around us. The movie also leaves us with a lot of questions.

With this effort, Vivek manages to successfully walk the thin tightrope that bridges assumed reality with history and aligns facts with intentions. Even though the movie releases with the General Elections just around the corner, it doesn’t influence people’s votes in any way. We all are empowered enough to connect the dots. I will end this the way Vivek and Mithun end the movie, “welcome to politics.”

Movie in Review: Shazam

A disclaimer: if you are of my generation, you might end up confusing it with the Shaquille O’Neal’s Kazaam. It’s “obvi” a different movie.

In a nutshell, I give five and a half star (on a scale of 1 to 10; 10 being the highest). But here’s the detailed review…

This movie has nothing to do with the Marvel Comic’s Captain Marvel. Shazam happens to be the original Captain Marvel. They changed his name because it didn’t sound as exciting as Captain Sparklefinger.

Let us begin with what I liked:

The storytelling; full marks, there. The comedy quotient is pretty much within check. This suits the PG-13 criteria, except for the last dialogue where Santa Claus uses the F-word. The lead actors, including Billy’s foster parents, have done a good job.

The best part is, I went to the movie with zero expectations. I knew that this superhero family of Shazam is a rung below that of the flagship DC, Superman, et al. That helped me keep calm and enjoy the humor that underpins the checkpoints of the movie.

I enjoyed the movie more because of Darla, the cute little big-hugger than because of the marvels of the Shazam. See, that’s why the changed the name—for good. Darla is not only a part of their big adopted family, but she IS the family. She jointly holds the secret about Billy Batson being Shazam with Freddy, who is Billy’s foster brother.

I am in love with Darla—shortened from darling. Faithe Herman has played Darla to perfection. There is such an overload of cuteness that it will make you wish to buy her ice-creams and cupcakes. A big hug for the big-hugger.

A couple of characters who shine at par with the adolescent Billy, played by Asher Don Angel, are of that of Freddy, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, and Eugene Choi, played by Ian Chen. Eugene’s sense of timing is outstanding.

Here are a few things they could have done better:

Mark Strong as first Thad and then the supervillain is too cool to resemble a villain. Well, if you ignore his shining blue eye and the scar over it, the make-up team didn’t have much to do. I felt they borrowed his overcoat straight from Morpheus of the Matrix trilogy. In totality, the supervillain’s Mark wasn’t Strong enough—oh, that wordplay.

The superhero costumes, none of them, were as authentic as that of the Superman. But I blame it on what everyone expects from such movies. The puffed-up muscles of all kid-turned superheroes (spoiler alert!) are too fabricated to be real. Speaking of “fabricated” reminds me of the animation. It was sub-par throughout the movie. At times, the actors’ actions didn’t match the animation. On others, the animation was poor. Especially the sequence where Shazam saves a bus full of passengers from dying.

Here is one DC-verse superhero that was away from both the silver screen and the reality. The movie is for kids aged 10-16, but the comedy matches the audiences of much higher age groups, at least in India. The movie is at least ten years too late. Had it been 2007, I’d have enjoyed watching it.

Here I go… SHAZAM.

Mind this when Writing a Novel

Just days before I completed penning down the plot for my novel, one of my friends happened to bring this question in our chitchat:

What’s the most important thing that you must keep in mind when writing a novel?

The question was tricky because writing a novel isn’t an easy thing to do. Sure, a lot of people do it. Yet there are only a few whose names you continue to remember and recommend. The answer to the question my friend asked lies in understanding why we happen to recommend only a few names. I could have easily said what I have read in numerous blog posts. But I dissent from the thoughts shared in most of such posts. Here’s why…

Writing—any kind of writing, fiction or nonfiction—is like weaving. You have a lot of threads that you wish to connect into a meaningful, purposed way. If anything, you also need to get the correct color combination and create a pleasant pattern. A novel tells a story that contains a central plot and more than one (interdependent or independent) sub-plots. So long as you connect the colorful sub-plots to the central plot to create a pleasant pattern, you have my commitment despite how long a story you weave (read tell).

Then is it all about the story?

Yes, the story is one of the most important things that you should have to tell or share. But a novel isn’t only about the story. You may have the best story to tell. But if you don’t tell it the way people would like to listen to, then, sorry, you will lose your audience. I read a novel to relive the story I read. Based on the way it is described in the novel, I recreate it in my mind. And, I like to see the perfect picture.

So, it should be about how well you describe things. Right?

No. If it were only about descriptions, then academic and literary essays would tell you well-researched stories way better than novels would. Then, why would anyone even peep into the world of fiction? A description can only get you so far. Here’s another key for you: the description of gargoyles in Far from the Madding Crowd builds the story.

Well, then, it is about the content. After all, content is the king.

Yes, content trumps (pun not intended) everything else. Let me break this to you:

The most important thing to keep in mind when writing a novel is to find your voice.

Remember, it is your story. You choose to share it the way you speak. Be natural. Break this story to me in a way that, first, you intrigue me into a conversation, and then, hold on to my helplessness (in a good way) until you help me conclude it.

It is that simple; it is that difficult.