The success of The Tashkent Files is an important case study for Indian filmmakers who often attribute the box office failure of their films to the minuscule P&A budget, low screen counts, and their inability to ‘buy’ good starry reviews for their films.
The Tashkent Files is directed and produced by Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri. It had hardly anything going for it. Its star-cast included some really accomplished actors. However, the likes of Naseeruddin Shah, Mithun Chakraborty, Shweta Basu Prasad, Pankaj Tripathi, Mandira Bedi, and Pallavi Joshi have non-existent box office pull.
The film didn’t even do the film festival circuit to generate global critical acclaim and buzz. What more, the leading film critics of India, whose reviews ‘purportedly’ can make or break the box office prospects of a film, refused to review it as it didn’t suit their politics. This was an unprecedented act clearly aimed at hurting its box office prospects. The few celebrity reviewers, who did review it, deliberately rated it low for no particular reason in spite of the fact that the filmmaker had tried to be as politically correct as he could.
The film was hardly publicized. The only mode of publicity that was used was ‘Social Media’ platforms. In this case also Vivek Agnihotri and his ‘Right Wing’ followers were the only ones who seemed to have promoted the film. There were very few articles written about it in film magazines and journals. Its trailer had a soft launch on You Tube with precious little fanfare. However, it became a big hit.
In other words the film had nothing going for it except its strong subject and to some extent its ensemble cast. It was also branded as a political film, which is yet another negative factor. Cinema audiences in India are generally apolitical. They want to be entertained and not provoked into serious thinking. They are known to suspend their ‘intellectual faculties’ while watching a film.
What more, it was given a platform release, with minuscule screen and show counts and it had to compete for eyeballs with major star-studded extravaganzas, which was certain to destroy whatever little box office prospects a film could have. If you didn’t have sizeable collection in the first weekend of the release it would be the end of a film’s box office run. You will be done and dusted and buried for dead.
Saddled by multiplicity of these negatives, The Tashkent Files had ‘zilch’ chances of success at Indian box office and ipso facto would have fetched pittance for its satellite and Internet rights.
That didn’t happen. The film survived and is still running in its fourth week and has become a hit in spite of the limitations of a platform release with no significant rise in the number of screen counts and shows. It has continued to wither the onslaught of mega Bollywood and Hollywood blockbusters. It’s a brilliant example of how you can win the box office race slowly and steadily if you keep the production and P&A budget of the film under control.
What actually worked for the film was its controversial subject that was dealt with effectively through a smartly structured and written screenplay that turned it into a highly dramatic, accessible, audience friendly and engaging political thriller.
The Tashkent Files could not have been made and released under Congress rule. Modi Sarkar, often excoriated as an intolerant regime by the ‘left-liberal’ cabal of filmmakers and despicably dishonest reviewers who refused to review the film, deserves a standing ovation for it.