The film beautifully captures the story of an insignificant man being made significant by the energy and aspirations of thousands of insignificant people.
A good film is the one that keeps you engaged while you are looking at the screen, but a great film is the one that allows you to run a parallel film in your memory lane even when you are looking at the screen. What makes this film unique is that while it is supposed to be a documentary, it is more of a docudrama, but without actors. Instead, it captures real people, their aspirations, their energy, their emotions, their vulnerabilities.
An Insignificant Man covers the period of roughly one year, from the formation of AAP to their spectacular performance in Delhi Assembly Elections in 2013. Its honesty and naivety makes it an unconventional political film that offers a fascinating tribute to our democratic system and processes. The basic questions are raised, how our political representatives should be, what is the role of a political organisation, and what is the power relation between a political leader and his supporters and volunteers.
You see Kejriwal almost unrehearsed and unglorified, playing with the buttons of his shirt when he is nervous, being vulnerable after Santosh Koli’s death, practicing his lines before shooting a video message, trying to memorize a speech, and telling his mother when he’ll be back before leaving home. But the film is not really about Kejriwal, it is about the energy, the energy that is unleashed by the idea of change, the idea of new politics.
It tries to capture a moment, a moment that passed hurriedly before our eyes, a moment that we all lived, a moment that was full of possibilities, and is still breathing in that sense. There is no ideological baggage, no bigger narrative, no moral judgement. It manages to create empathy for the movement, but is not propagating. Its’s also about the daily mechanisms of politics. There are some moments that are rarely captured on camera, like how spokespersons of political parties are hotly arguing on a debate show, and the cameras go off and they’re like, ‘bachchon ki padhai kaisi chal rahi hai?’ ‘bhabhiji kaisi hain?’
The second important person in the film after Kejriwal is Yogendra Yadav. The film focuses on inherent tensions between Yadav and Kejriwal. While Kejriwal is focused on winning, Yadav is focused on processes. His surprised look asking, ‘Did Arvind really announced it at a rally?’. He is seen apologizing to volunteers about compromises in ticket distribution, while Kejriwal is seen arguing ‘thodi bahut meri bhi to chalni chahiye’. Nevertheless, Yogendra Yadav was the most important man in AAP after Kejriwal at that time and the film gives him his due.
The film has a lot of humor too, Kejriwal laughing at the seriousness at which Kumar Vishwas is doing a voiceover. Kumar Vishwas saying, ‘Who would believe that this guy can laugh’. Yogendra Yadav’s frustration when he has to defend Kejriwal for something he has no idea about, and the energy of the volunteers and supports which might look unbelievable sometimes.
There is also the question of personal integrity. There’s a lady who’s extremely critical of alcohol and money being distributed by political parties. So someone says, take it and vote for AAP. But she refuses, if she takes their money, she’d have to vote for them. So there are these strange moral codes. Then there’s this person trying to shut voting machine into a box after polling, and despite his attempts it’s not being shut properly, so he’s worried that these votes might be rejected. It is moments like these that make the core of the film.
But there are certain things which were missing, No leader except Kejriwal and Yadav was visible. Kejriwal’s iconic speech, ‘mein pehle income tax me commissioner tha ji’ was missing. The scenes were too short. For a 90-minute film,there was not a single shot which lasted 5-minutes. It sometimes looked like a slideshow.
The film is made by Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla and produced by Anand Gandhi. Khushboo has directed a short film, ‘Continuum’ along with Anand Gandhi. Vinay has also directed a short film, ‘Bureaucracy Sonata’. What is important is that they have managed to stay relatively neutral and focused on their film despite being amazed by the energy.
What happened between October 2012 and Dec 2013 cannot be captured or expressed by a single film or book, because there were so many things, there were so many directions and there were so many layers, but no other film could have shown whatever happened in a better way. It is a must watch for anyone who is interested in AAP, or even Indian Democracy for that matter.