When Arvind Kejriwal arrived with a bang on the Indian political horizon, two filmmakers, intrigued by the drama in Delhi, followed him around with their cameras. They ended up capturing the birth of the Aam Admi Party as it unfolded in real-time. The one-hour-36-minutes-long documentary called “An Insignificant Man” has been directed by Khusboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla, and produced by the maker of “Ship of Theseus”, Anand Gandhi. Just before the party marks its fifth year on November 26, the documentary, after travelling to over 50 international film festivals, will commercially release in India on November 17. Ranka and Shukla are not troubled by the problems that the fledgling party has been facing, for they believe their film is an impartial portrayal of a unique democratic development. The directors often say, they were the only ones with a camera, which gave them access to vital meetings and discussions.
“The main reason we could persist as filmmakers was the access. We realised that it was a unique opportunity for us and we would be fools to waste it. We wanted to make a film that could be read in multiple ways – it is not an immediate commentary, but introspective,” says Ranka in an interview with PTI. Ranka, who co-wrote “Ship of Theseus” with Gandhi, says there was no pressure from the party to show them in a good light. They also found two interesting figures in Kejriwal and Yogendra Yadav, the AAP founders who ended up parting. “They are two different people and their style of politics is also different. Yogendra was more cautious, depended on the data and processes while Arvind was more instinctive. He would alter his speech depending on the crowd.
While working on the film, we realised that there would be differences between the two,” she adds. Shukla, who has also shot another documentary, says that when they first started shooting the development in Delhi, they did not anticipate they would end up capturing a story. “They had just announced that they were going to form a political party. We went there and said we would like to shoot every day and, at that time, they were happy at least someone was covering them,” he says. But the development took them by surprise.
“Over the next year, they became much bigger than any of us could have anticipated. We ended up covering a shape- shifting phenomenon in Indian politics,” says Shukla. He adds that when they were trying to raise money for the film, they were often advised to turn it into fiction. The directors faced their fair share of struggle when former censor board chief Pahlaj Nihalani refused to certify the film, asking them to get No Objection Certificates (NoC) from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit and other political leaders mentioned in the film, the two filmmakers say.
“Mr Nihalani also wanted us to keep the names of the BJP and Congress out, which would have made the film completely irrelevant. But Anand stood by the project from day one and we were lucky to have him on our side.” Gandhi does not believe that the film has been delayed as he feels the story is not bound by time. “It’s a contemporary story. It’s a story of democracy today across the world. It is the story of American democracy as much as it is the story of Greece, Portugal or India,” he says.
The focus of the film, Gandhi adds, is not on an individual. “The individual, as they have rightly suggested, is insignificant to the larger scope of the narrative. Their focus has been on ideas, questions and challenges of the democratic process,” says Gandhi. The crowdfunded political thriller presented by the Vice Media, produced by Memesys Lab is co-produced by Sundance, Bertha Foundation, DocSociety, AND Busan, IDFA.