An Insignificant Man, 2016.
Directed by Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla
Starring Arvind Kejriwal, Yogendra Yadav and Santosh Koli.
An enthralling documentary following the political career of activist Arvind Kejriwal around the 2013 Delhi election, and his battle with two long standing political parties in India, the world’s largest democracy. An Insignificant Man chronicles the AAP’s rise to political power alongside the challenges they faced through infighting and false allegations.
One of the most essential things in designing a documentary film is the way in which the director positions the story, choosing appropriate high’s and low’s to fit the developing narrative, and a pace at which the story continues to evolve and build momentum. An Insignificant Man masters this beautifully; its ability to sustain the audience’s interest evolves from both the colossal archive of footage the two directors collected over the two years they spent when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) first formed, and a combined editing style that enthrals the viewer in the drama of these revolutionary moments.
Empowering and decisive, An Insignificant Man is bold in its design and approach. There is little to attack when it comes to criticising this film, however, directors Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla’s principal error lies in the bias of their narrative perspective. Having such personal access to the AAP limits the impartial journalistic approach documentaries should follow, however, this is easily missed because of the protagonist’s ability to charm us into aligning with his version of political change. There is an entrancing poetry to the philosophy of Yoggendra and Arvind’s political rhetoric that the film translates incredibly well, displaying the way in which their words affect so many people into voting and volunteering for them. One of the main themes the film covers is the how Arvind builds this same influence on a grand scale, reaching out to the needs and wants of people across Delhi and India, resisting the need to compromise on his foundational beliefs. The very same charm that convinces Delhi to believe in Arvind as the alternative to 70 years of a two party system is evidently the same charm that effects Ranka and Shulka’s vision of the narrative. What develops from this view is starkly painted black and white image of the Indian political system; with that being said the honesty to which they portray the members of the AAP and the interpersonal conflicts that arose from their political differences is enough to vindicate the initial limited scope that the directors had when only filming from the perspective of the AAP.
Ironically, possessing such a large archive of footage makes forming a documentary both incredibly difficult, and at the same time, exceedingly more easy. The time it takes to examine all this footage, deciding on a narrative that covers the whole story impartially, is an extremely difficult task. However, the freedom and coverage one gets from filming everything allows the directors to fill the gaps between what we know about these figures, bringing to life their character and humanity. This is where Ranka and Shukla’s film comes into its own. From an overwhelming well of footage comes remarkable moments that foreshadow events that transpire years later; one such moment is an interview with Santosh Koli where she predicts her own death after receiving a number of threats. The significance and importance of this film ultimately stems from the editing, which weaves the footage they gathered themselves with news footage from the election at the time, forming a linear narrative that reveals more about the events than the news outlets did at that happened it time.
One of the film’s most defining moments comes from the way it frames the people behind these political parties. Having unprecedented access to Arvind Kejriwal’s party, Ranka and Shukla reveal the personalities behind the ideologies that sparked a revolution in Indian politics. It examines the space between those impassioned speeches seen on the news, looking towards the weight and effects of forming political rhetoric, delving into the responsibility of making promises to change policy. One particularly private and intimate moment we view is the instant Arvind’s first hears of the passing of Santosh Koli.
Both directors reflect this struggle in the cinematography, using wide angles and aerial shots over India and Delhi to emphasis the magnitude of Arvind’s movement and the burden of belief he suffers with. We witness his hands intertwining and locking while being interviewed by newscasters out of shot and the degree to which people went as far as to say “I’d die for your cause.” Those same shots also illustrate the power of Arvind’s charisma and reach over Delhi, demonstrating the influence of his revolutionary ideology and how it developed from his grassroot support following his anti-corruption bill helping him gain credibility.
As the film progresses, it builds in maturity, developing on from the grassroots movement to the interpersonal conflicts that arise in the party over the two years of filming. Ranka and Shukla allow us to see further into a political party’s formation and how those in politics form their responses and policies through open discussion, forcing each other to constantly challenge one another to question the motives behind their ideas. All this forms a unfound intimacy with these characters; we see into how their ideas and policies were formed and the reasons behind why they wanted to change the system. It only seems fitting that the post production of An Insignificant Man was financed from a crowd funding project, mirroring the way the AAP was able to fund its campaign by accepting donations from those that wanted to see their politics enacted further showing the intimacy this project had with the people who wanted this story told.
An Insignificant Man is an absorbing spectacle that needs to be seen. It will engross those interested in political change, revolution, social development and social conflict. Despite its tendencies to lean closer to the party it spends so much time documenting; it reveals the honesty of the people behind political change, inspiring the viewer to better understand how politics works behind the scenes.
An Insignificant Man is screening at the London Film Festival Saturday 8th October (BFI) and Sunday 9th October (ICA).
Flickering Myth Rating: Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★