Towards the end of 2013, Delhi’s political scenario saw a phenomenal change. Apart from the two major parties, Congress and BJP, that had dominated the headlines until then, a third and new party was emerging. The change was an opportunity for three people – Aam Aadmi Party leader and ex-civil servant Arvind Kejriwal and two filmmakers – Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla.
AAP had created waves across the politics of the national capital and its impact was confirmed with them emerging as the second largest party in 2013 Delhi elections. The common man wondered how a party run by an ‘outsider’ made it so big in its first ever election. The giants of the game were no more safe. Ranka and Shukla treated it as an opportunity to get close to politics and document the rise of a common man who they now gave the title – An Insignificant Man.
“What happened was that these people announced in late 2012 that they are going to form a political party. And at that point, the country was very divided over whether they were doing the right thing. Somewhere, me and Khusboo thought that this was an opportunity to go closer to politics and to these people and find out what exactly politics means to them. We were also curious about what will happen — will they succeed or not — that curiosity sort of was enough to move from Bombay to Delhi with our camera,” Vinay says.
But shooting live in the midst of such political turmoil wouldn’t have been easy. It, in turn, sounds more of extraordinary. On being asked about how they went with the entire thing, Khusboo says, “We actually just approached them and asked them for the permission. They ended up saying ‘yes’ and allowing us the access which was in a lot of ways, extraordinary. Even we took time to realise the kind of access it was but I think that in hindsight, the kind of film that we have, is very unique. Being a student of cinema, I don’t think in Indian cinema there has been a film like this. I don’t mean to boast, but I am saying it in an academic way.”
More than learning cinema, the two directors also learnt the happenings of a political party in proximity. “Going inside a political party and observing from close quarters, not just the events as they unfold, but genuinely the transition of a group of outsiders into politicians, how they communicated certain ideals, what happened in the process of becoming a politician, the push and pull of compromises, saying one thing and perhaps not being able to do it or not doing it. And I think that that makes for a very interesting story,” she recalls.
Vinay and Khusboo had been experimenting with the form of observational filmmaking for a long time. While this type of film-making involves only shooting and editing without any interviews, capturing a political party under the lens was attractive for the two of them and they ended up making this political thriller.
Here is exclusive footage from An Insignificant Man, the documentary on Arvind Kejriwal, which hits screens on November 17
“Observational filmmaking is like, there are no interviews, there are no voice-overs, the way you shoot and edit, it feels like a fiction film. And we were looking for a subject that would fit into this. And the idea that we could get access to a political story was really attractive. And that’s the thing, we on a hunch, approached these people and once we got that access, it would really have been a missed opportunity to have not made this film,” she says.
There were doubts before beginning this project. They were entering a field unknown to them but it was a story that had captured the imagination of the nation. And this pair was no different.
“If you go back to that time, it was the most interesting story that was happening. People were captivated by this idea. We always spoke about how like these renegade group of people should enter politics. This kind of ideas has always kind of existed in our democratic consciousness. But what does it mean when we say these things? What is the process of outsiders entering politics? But not just that, for filmmakers, you know for us they were a couple of compulsions but also attractions towards the story,” Khusboo clarifies.
While the mainstream Indian audience may be accustomed to seeing fictionalized political thrillers, will a documentary be able to capture the attention of cinema-goers? Co-director Khusboo says that to recuperate from the burden that the word ‘documentary’ carries with it, they shifted to calling it a ‘non-fiction political thriller.’ She adds, “When we were showing this film to our crowd-funders and mentors, we kept getting the response that ‘this is not a documentary’, this is like a ‘masala film’. So, actually one of the things we have done is that we are calling it a non-fiction political thriller which technically is still a documentary. But because the word ‘documentary’ has such a burden of history attached to it, especially in India, that people have such assumptions about documentaries which I think will take some time to shake off. There are a lot of interesting documentaries that are being made in the past few years, they are getting more cutting edge. For us, we are especially trying to communicate to people that it is a political thriller.”
An Insignificant Man hits the theaters on November 17, 2018.