Documentary, English, Film, Hindi, Review

An Insignificant Man

An Insignificant Man, looking at the rise of Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) through the year leading to the Delhi elections of 2013, effectively chronicles a movement that not only questions but takes on the rot and corruption in India’s political system.

After a long battle with the Central Board Of Film Certification (CBFC), which blocked it for absurd reasons – asking for beeping out any references to AAP’s political rivals, the Congress and the BJP parties, besides insisting on NOCs from Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, former Delhi Chief Minister, Sheila Dixit, and the very subject of the film, Arvind Kejriwal – An Insignificant Man is finally out on Indian screens. This is courtesy the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal, that passed the film without any cuts and a U/A certificate. The Tribunal needs to be lauded as An Insignificant Man proves to be a rather significant film of our times; one that needs to be watched irrespective of whether one supports Kejriwal (and AAP) or not. The film, that grew from filming the protests of the India Against Corruption movement, has already been lauded at film festivals and several screenings, the world over.

First and foremost, one has to doff a hat at the then powers that be at AAP, who gave filmmakers Vinay Shukla and Khushboo Ranka total access to film them. This gives the film and its fly-on-the-wall look an intimacy between AAP and the viewers as we find ourselves in the thick of the action rather than view the film as detached audiences. Agreed, the AAP needed visibility at the time, but this accessibility to filming also helps it in coming across as a party that was trying to be open, transparent and honest. This openness also gives the film a certain honesty and balance. It also humanizes Kejriwal and others involved – see the bits with Santosh Koli or the sequence of Viswas giving the voice over for the electoral film – even though it refrains form getting into the personal barring the odd scene like Kejriwal with his mother. While no doubt, it gives a big thumbs up the efforts of a resolute (and stubborn) Kejriwal to shake up the status quo in Indian politics, we also see the beginning of the rumblings within the party, especially between Kejriwal and Yogendra Yadav and the inherent authoritarian nature of the former as he refuses to campaign for a candidate he might not approve of. We also see the idealist party, which AAP projected itself to be, admitting to making compromises in politics for the larger picture to achieve the ideals it has set for itself.

What works well in An Insignificant Man is its unfolding. We follow the AAP from its formation to fighting the Delhi elections over a year. In that sense, it is structured not dissimilar to a political thriller, building up to the Delhi elections and the subsequent swearing in of Kejriwal as Chief Minister. And through its deft editing of hundreds of hours of footage, it keeps us engaged even though we already know how it all played out eventually. After all, who does not like to see the triumph of David over Goliath as AAP, with limited funds and resources, beat out all expectations and turned all exit polls on their head by bagging 28 out of 70 seats in the Delhi elections! There are times, the film goes beyond Kejriwal and AAP, as the party’s rise effectively highlights the need for such a political movement in a country lost between the murky machinations of the Congress and the BJP.

On the flip side, the film focuses  a mite too much on Kejriwal than the party itself. Though a people’s movement, other party members like Manish Sisodia or Kumar Vishwas register only because we know who they are by now. Otherwise, the larger picture of Kejriwal within AAP and even the role of AAP in the overall political scenario of the country is somewhat sidelined except, perhaps, highlighting its necessity. Also, the delay in release also gives it a certain dated feel, considering how much water has flown under the bridge since then.  One can’t help wondering if AAP would be so open today to any filmmaker following it about, considering the events that have followed the film since, especially Yadav and Prashant Bhushan’s not-so-amicable departures from the party.

The solid turnout for the film with several shows even going houseful bodes well for the documentary movement in India. As it is, earlier documentaries like Supermen Of Malegaon, Fire In The Blood, The Rat Race and Gulabi Gang have conclusively proved there is definitely an audience for good and solid non-fiction content presented engagingly. An Insignificant Man is a welcome addition to that list.


Hindi, English, Documentary, Black & White and Color

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