Who would have thought that a documentary on an Indian election would be one of the most sought after screenings at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, which places close to 400 films before its discerning audience?
Moreover, the film plays at three of the most important year-ending film festivals across the world. From TIFF it will travel to BFI London Film Festival and then to the key film event in the Far East, the Busan International Film Festival.
The packed TIFF screening of this remarkable documentary was pitched with excitement, leaving its audience enthralled at the unique face of India as it prepares for one of its most challenging goals to mobilise public votes. The film’s interest is timely as well, what with the current American presidential race dominated by two high-profile opposing candidates.
‘An Insignificant Man’ gains momentum as a taut, political thriller. It closely observes day to day over a fast-paced two years, the almost overnight emergence followed by the spectacular rise of activist Arvind Kejriwal, from a whistle blower to a controversial vigilante-politician. It traces the birth of India’s newest political force – The Common Man’s Party (AAP). This revolution is meticulously and expertly captured with intimacy and care by two talented first-time directors, Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla.
The film reveals firsthand the man behind Arvind Kejriwal, not known to many Westerners. He is referred as the “Bernie Sanders of India”, the American who is the longest-serving independent in U.S. Congress, unaffiliated to any political party and identified as a democratic socialist). The film shows how a common man prepares to run for head of state in his zeal to overthrow the status quo in Delhi. It projects this battle as an exciting challenge, heightened by suspense and insights, its expert editing lending it a rising crescendo. The film is about the rise of anti-corruption movement that culminated in Arvind Kejriwal’s party wresting a majority in Delhi.
It has been directed by Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla.
The 100-minute documentary on a key moment in Indian electoral history is slated to travel to festivals in London, Busan, Sao Paolo and Warsaw, besides the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). For most people, who have seen the film and have taken to social media to articulate their opinions, its appeal lies in the way that it plays out like a political thriller.
“The film has struck a chord because it captures the energy and complexity of an Indian election,” says debutante Ranka who, with Shukla, also a first-timer, spent a year and a half recording the rallies, meetings and war room pow-wows of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the months leading up to its first electoral battle in 2014.
“The film chronicles a moment in India’s contemporary political history in a manner that no Indian film has ever done,” says Anand Gandhi, producer of “An Insignificant Man”. He adds, “The idea is to trigger an informed conversation on the alternatives available to those that are fighting the status quo. We were not interested in taking sides or pushing any particular line of political thinking.”
Both Ranka and Shukla, too, assert that An Insignificant Man is as neutral as any film can be. “People of different nationalities who have seen the film here have related at the personal level with something or the other in the film. The issues that the film raises have universal resonance,” says Shukla.
“Our approach was completely that of a fly on the wall. We filmed as unobtrusively as possible. When we started out, we had no idea where AAP would go. So every day of the shoot yielded surprises,” says Ranka.
“This,” she adds, “is an observational documentary that has no political agenda apart from highlighting the power that anti-establishment forces can acquire when they have focused and energetic leadership.”
The crowd-funded “An Insignificant Man” received the support of the Sundance Institute, Hot Docs and the Bertha Britdoc Journalism Fund. “The fund for the film was nearly six times the amount that we needed for the production. It found spontaneous support from the people,” she says.
“An Insignificant Man” makes liberal use of news telecast footage as an important device. “The news footage offers the contrarian perspective on what the narrative around the AAP movement. It provides a commentary on what is happening,” Khusboo adds.
To the criticism that the film stops with the 2014 Delhi elections (which delivered a hung Assembly) and, therefore, might appear dated to some, “Most of our audience understand that this is an ongoing story and that this film not the last word,” says Shukla.
While admitting that the might encounter difficulties in finding takers in India owning to its political underpinning, Gandhi says, “We will explore every avenue available to us to ensure that An Insignificant Man reaches its audience in the country.” – CINEWS