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Not Arvind Kejriwal, this is a documentary on democracy: An Insignificant Man’s makers

The directors of An Insignificant Man, Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla, and Anand Gandhi talk about the motive behind the film and more in a candid conversation with Hindustan Times.

bollywood Updated: Nov 01, 2017 12:01 IST
Sweta Kaushal
Sweta Kaushal
Hindustan Times
Anand Gandhi,An Insignificant Man,Arvind Kejriwal
Producer Anand Gandhi, directors Khusbhoo Ranka and Vinay Shukla talk about their upcoming film An Insignificant Man.(HT Photo)

First-time directors Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla have come up with a documentary that will soon be released in the theatres. Titled An Insignificant Man, it traces Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal’s political journey and tries to explain India’s democratic process. Anand Gandhi, director of Ship of Theseus, will assume the producer’s mantle for this venture.

Anand, Khushboo and Vinay describe the motive behind creating the docu-feature in a candid conversation with Hindustan Times.

We have seen various factions being offended by various films in recent times. Being a political documentary, An Insignificant Man (AIM) may mention various major political parties. Do you fear any backlash after the release?
Khushbo: It is very easy to be offended these days. Giving the kind of attention that we do to offence, legally and constitutionally, is catering to the worst part of ourselves. A kid throws tantrums, but if you keep encouraging those tantrums, it is not good parenting. It is not a healthy process of maturing.

Anand:That’s a nice metaphor. It’s like somebody takes offence and the whole nation goes ‘arre re re babu ko bura laga’!!

Arvind Kejriwal in a still from the documentary.

What made you choose Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Admi Party for your film?
Khushboo:Actually, we approached everyone – the BJP, the Congress and the AAP. We sought access to their meetings, electoral strategising and campaign planning but they said no. Only AAP allowed us to shoot. It was more a compulsion than a decision from our end to document only AAP.

If not the person, what is it that the film documents?
Khushboo: We wanted to make a documentary on democracy. Kejriwal happens to head the party. It is not just about him; you also see other characters – like Yogendra Yadav – in the film. When you have access to a new political party, you also have the privilege of understanding how democracy functions. That’s because they are trying to break into this large landscape of politics in a country like India. There are thousands of things that determine how elections happen, and what ends up happening.

Vinay: We started shooting in 2012, and not too many people were interested in the party. So, they were more than happy that someone was taking them seriously. Over the next one and a half years, the party grew beyond what anyone – including us – had anticipated. So, our crew also expanded. We had limited funds, so we hired college kids. A lot of fantastic footage that you see in the film is actually shot by absolute first-timers..

Right now, Kejriwal isn’t as big a phenomenon as he was when he started. Do you think your film will be seen as propaganda material to bring him back into the spotlight?
Khushboo: There was no pre-determined time as to when we were going to release the film. We approached the Central Board of Film Certification in February, where it got stuck. We then went to the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal, which cleared it. The fact that Arvind’s popularity is currently low is good for us because there is no emotional euphoria around him anymore to make people argue in shrill and polarised ways. It gives audiences the opportunity to reflect on the idea, and not just this one man or a party. When it was screened at MAMI last year, there were different reactions. There were people who loved him and others who hated him. But as both kinds liked the film, there is clearly some credibility attached to the film beyond the supposed propaganda.

Everyone, at least in Delhi, was almost emotionally involved in the journey of AAP. Did you have a certain viewpoint that may have influenced the narrative?
Both of us are greedy filmmakers, and we knew we were there for the film. We were almost invisible to them, hanging around with DSLRs like college kids making a project or something. They almost treated us like furniture in the room.

Khushbo: Of course, we had opinions. More than the person, whether Arvind is a pleasant person or not isn’t really our concern. But we loved the idea of decentralisation. Whether they themselves have been able to adhere to the idea is very questionable. You will see in the film how implementing these ideas in the party can be difficult. For us, those messy areas are most interesting. Transparency, for instance, how easy or difficult is it to be really transparent? Another genuine problem I had with the party was its lack of women. Although we don’t comment on these things, because that’s not the form of the film, you will see it for yourself. As filmmakers, we don’t tell you. We want you to see and think for yourself.

What purpose does the film serve?
We have two types of political documentaries in India: one is the watchdog or anti-thesis, where you comment on certain leaders and parties, and the other is the party-funded, follow-the-leader propaganda type. This one (An Insignificant Man) is different. It is not affiliated with any political party, it is not an outsider’s view, and it is not based on interviews and voice-overs. It is like a fly-on-the-wall documentary, a hidden-camera documentary. These guys (Khushboo and Vinay) happened to be there, and they managed to string together a narrative without voice-overs or interviews. It is fact as you see it, and there is no opinion behind this. It answers all the questions I had regarding democracy as a politically aware citizen

It is rare for documentaries to release in Indian theatres. How do you plan to go about the film’s release, and what is the kind of reception you expect?
Anand: They have screened the film in 30-35 countries and 50 film festivals, and the audience used to come out and say ‘This is exactly what’s happening in Portugal’ or ‘This is exactly what’s happening in Greece scene-by-scene and nuance-by-nuance’. People across the globe have resonated with the narrative. The film releases on November 17, and we are looking at 25-30 screens. We put up preview screenings for (November) 16 and everything was booked within hours of the trailer launch! Another new initiative we have launched will give people the opportunity to book theatres for An Insignificant Man. We wanted to make the audience responsible for the cinema they see. There will be a very simple tool on our website, our Facebook page and that of our partner ‘PVR Vkaoo’. The audience will have to book 50% of the tickets at a theatre near them to make a theatrical release happen there. This will completely decentralise the manner in which films are brought to the audience..

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First Published: Nov 01, 2017 11:02 IST