How did two Mumbai-based filmmakers come to trace Arvind Kejriwal’s journey to becoming Delhi’s chief minister? We meet the duo, as the film premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival
The video begins with a blank screen. You can only hear people arguing in Hindi. As the visual fades in, we see six policemen caught in a scuffle. They’re trying to contain what appears to be a stampede. TV news crews are in the mix, battling their way through the sea of humanity to get a clear shot. It is not yet certain who these people are desperate to meet.
As the ruckus intensifies – accusations and abuses are thrown around – a small, bespectacled figure, wearing a blue sweater, emerges. It takes a few seconds to register: it’s Arvind Kejriwal, founder of the Aam Aadmi Party and chief minister of Delhi. Immediately, the TV crews go berserk. Incoherent questions are flung in Kejriwal’s direction.
He, however, simply stands, centre frame, observing the chaos around him. His expression resembles that of Jon Snow, from Game of Thrones, when elected lord commander of the Night’s Watch – a composed-yet-fierce resolve.
The video is a trailer to An Insignificant Man (AIM) – a documentary by Mumbai-based film-makers Vinay Shukla and Khushboo Ranka . It premiered last weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival, and chronicles the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party during the 2013 Delhi elections.
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Back to the beginning
How did two Mumbaikars end up documenting a political revolution in Delhi? “We were curious about Kejriwal and the anti-corruption movement. When we heard the rumours about a political party, we wanted to know more. So we went to Delhi in 2012,” says Shukla.
The early entry enabled the crew to establish a friendly equation with the party members, and document the arc of Kejriwal’s political career – from being a novice to emerging as the clear winner in the 2015 re-elections. “When we began shooting, there was no media around, and nobody was really interested in what Kejriwal was up to. Over the years, AAP evolved into something much bigger,” says Shukla.
Shukla and Ranka’s approach to the film has been purely observational – they make no judgments on Kejriwal’s political agenda or methods. Most of the footage is from public rallies, and the grassroots reaction to AAP’s growing popularity. How was it shooting amidst unregulated crowds? “We couldn’t shoot with more than two people at a point. We wanted to be inconspicuous - we were shooting in sensitive situations. The downside to this was that people would often block our cameras,” says Shukla.
Did they run into trouble? “Our associate director was once chased by a group of women raising anti-AAP slogans. We have the entire chase (recorded) on camera,” recounts Ranka.
By their own admission, shooting for AIM was like entering a battlefield every day. Yet, Shukla and Ranka were able to cope with it, courtesy their previous work on films. Shukla’s Bureaucracy Sonata (2013), a film based on the 1975 National Emergency, won the HBO Best Short Film Award at the South Asian International Film Festival, New York. As for Ranka, she is a known name in the indie film circuit for co-writing Ship of Theseus (2013) with Anand Gandhi.
Yet, their ordinary citizen journalism-like images, looking to document a growing political awareness in the country, grabbed eyeballs. Their crowdfunding campaign to finance the film received 600 per cent of their target from 800 donors, worldwide (Rs 71,00,000). It was the biggest Indian crowdfunded project of 2014. “Media channels couldn’t address everything that needed attention. I think people realised the importance of having filmmakers and citizens come forth and shoulder that challenge,” says Shukla.