And year's the smartest propaganda film is...

Pradyumna Warrier

May 31, 2019 14:45:04 IST

The elections are over and so, it would seem, is the season of political films in Bollywood. Over the past months, we have had two biopics, The Accidental Prime Minister and last week’s PM Narendra Modi. While these films naturally hogged the limelight for their respective high-profile subjects — ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi — in many ways, the film that worked most effectively among the pre-poll propaganda films has to be The Tashkent Files, Vivek Agnihotri’s conspiracy drama centred on the death of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.

And years the smartest propaganda film is...

Poster of The Tashkent Files

While all three films, low-budget productions, have done brisk business at the box-office, Agnihotri’s film stands out for its execution. With the exception of one instance of accusation that the film allegedly violated the Election Commission’s Code of Conduct, it released without any event. It is a direct attack on the Congress’ dynastic tendencies that, the film insists, existed from the earliest days of Independent India. Yet, when one watches film, one realises the tactful nature with which it questions Congress’ motives, not only in the context of Shastri’s death, but also taking it as far as to suggest foreign involvement in enforcing Emergency in 1975 for personal profits, during Indira Gandhi’s rule.

The tact of the matter lies in the film’s use of phrases like the ‘grand old party’ and referring to its party leader as ‘her’. There is no direct mention of names or visual representation of the people it accuses. Ironically, for a film riding that approach, its protagonist is shown ruing the fact that no one is willing to take names, though everyone knows who is to blame!

It is a clever ploy, and the film, though underplayed, is never understated in its intent. In the end, Agnihotri states the information shown ‘is unverified’, after all the insinuations and innuendos referring to Emergency and how, despite officially being a non-allied country in the Cold War era, India was allegedly affected by foreign influence.

Agnihotri’s non-committal approach would have left the Congress at a loss on how to denounce the film, despite the fact that it makes everything obvious.

It was a smart idea The Accidental Prime Minister and PM Narendra Modi could not latch onto. Both films became a subject of controversy for opposite reasons. The former was shunned as being a Congress-bashing tool sponsored by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The other has been criticised for being a promotional film for Prime Minister Modi.

Of course, the motive for all these films is perhaps best underlined by the self-acknowledging nod that The Tashkent Files supplies in one scene: “Mudda, iss Lok Sabha chunav ke liye bas ek mudda.”

Updated Date: May 31, 2019 14:47:50 IST