Film review: ‘The Tashkent Files’ rakes up a long-dead issue at last

Updated 14 April 2019
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Film review: ‘The Tashkent Files’ rakes up a long-dead issue at last

CHENNAI: Much like the deaths of US President John F. Kennedy and actress and socialite Marilyn Monroe, the sudden demise of India’s second prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, in Tashkent on Jan. 11, 1966, remains shrouded in mystery. While it was officially declared that he died as a result of a massive heart attack, just hours after signing a peace treaty with Pakistan in the aftermath of a war between the two neighbors, doubts remain. One theory is that he was murdered by the Soviet secret service, the KGB, for refusing to be drawn into closer ties with the communist superpower. Vivek Agnihotri’s latest outing, “The Tashkent Files,” digs into this disturbing question, but still leaves viewers none the wiser. 

At the center of the plot is a young journalist, Raagini Phule (played by Shweta Basu Prasad), desperate for a scoop after her editor lambasts her for posting “fake news.” A character akin to the anonymous source from the Watergate scandal made famous by the 1976 film “All the President’s Men,” comes to her aid, pushing her into the murky world of Indian politics. Phule’s reports force the government to set up an expert investigative committee, including a historian, a scientist and the chief of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). The panel is chaired by a politician, Shyam Sundaripathi (Mithun Chakraborty).

Much of the film’s 144 minutes is devoted to the arguments between the panelists, often turning dramatic and hysterical. Though intriguing, Phule’s character sometimes comes across as exaggerated, including a painful moment when a halo is, quite literally, placed around her head, depicting her transformation from fake news spinner to crusading celebrity. Prasad seems ill-at-ease playing the scribe swimming in shark infested waters — the actor who steals the show is Chakraborty, at first unimpressive and limping, but bursting with depth of character. 

“The Tashkent Files” is a far cry from the kind of depiction of an authentic study “All the President’s Men” offered up, or the more recent “Spotlight” about the Boston Globe investigation into the Catholic Church, but Agnihotri has, nonetheless, raked up a long-dead issue ripe for reinvestigation. It is a start.


‘Age-Old Cities’ exhibition in Riyadh museum breathes new life into ancient sites 

Updated 19 April 2019
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‘Age-Old Cities’ exhibition in Riyadh museum breathes new life into ancient sites 

  • National Museum in Riyadh hosts digital show that tells the story of Mosul, Palmyra, Aleppo and Leptis Magna

JEDDAH: An exhibition that uses digital technology to revive the region’s ancient sites and civilizations that have been destroyed or are under threat due to conflict and terrorism opened at the National Museum in Riyadh on April 18.

“Age-Old Cities” tells the story of four historically significant cities that have been devastated by violence: Mosul in Iraq, Palmyra and Aleppo in Syria, and Leptis Magna in Libya. 

Using stunning giant-screen projections, virtual reality, archival documents and images, and video testimonials from inhabitants of the affected sites, the immersive exhibition transports visitors back in time and presents the cities as they were in their prime. 

It charts their journey from the origins of their ancient civilizations to their modern-day state, and presents plans for their restoration and repair. 

The exhibition has been organized by the Ministry of Culture in collaboration with the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. Riyadh is the first stop outside the French capital on the exhibition’s global tour. 

The exhibition follows last month’s unveiling of the Kingdom’s new cultural vision, which included the announcement of several initiatives, including a new residency scheme for international artists to practice in the Kingdom and the establishment of the Red Sea International Film Festival. 

Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al-Saud, minister of culture, said: “I am delighted to welcome the ‘Age-Old Cities’ exhibition to Riyadh. 

“It highlights the importance of heritage preservation, particularly here in the Middle East, and the vulnerability of some of our historic sites. 

“It must be the responsibility of governments to put an end to this damage and neglect, and to put heritage at the heart of action, investment, and policy.

“I will be encouraging my fellow members of government to attend this eye-opening exhibition in our National Museum, and hope to work in the future with partners, governments and experts to do what we can to secure our region’s heritage.”

The exhibition carries a significant message about the importance of preserving and protecting these precious but fragile sites — one which resonates strongly in the week when one of the world’s most-famous heritage sites, Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral, went up in flames.