An Insignificant Man (2016) – A Thothful Movie Review
I’m thinking, growing up in India – the “Indian Dream” used-to-be/still-is acquiring the “American Dream” for many (then fate Trumped us all). The idea that “the country is out of hand” and “Indian politics is a gutter”, and that “someone” would have to clean it up eventually – has been a popular belief. Only problem – I’m thinking – is no one really believed that anyone would be that someone. Let alone someone insignificant.
So, when India made recent history with its ‘Jan Lokpal – Anti Corruption Movement (2011)’, Indian politicians threw a curve-ball at it. They challenged the key figures of the movement to contest elections in order to practice what they preach. And some of those key figures (mainly – Arvind Kejriwal), unexpectedly took it up. What followed, I’m thinking, was a series of epic victories, reversals and ultimately the undeniable rise and now steady existence of a third strong contender in Indian politics, previously dominated by just two parties.
(This also led to an important nation-wide increased interest in politics, even for movie and game addicts like me. Significant – indeed)
‘An Insignificant Man’ is a crowdfunded docufilm. It is made by film-makers Khusboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla, who had the foresight to document the formation of this “people’s party”, using a fly-on-the-wall approach. Indeed, they followed the Aam Aadmi Party (cameras-in-tow) from their early days, up until their first participation and shocking victory in the Delhi State Elections. The result: after becoming one of India’s highest crowd-funded films and after having 400 hours of footage distilled into a 90 minute film, is a film that’s seeking theatrical release soon.
For now, it was a private screening for crowd-funders a while ago. And I was lucky there were a few extra seats for guilty-as-charged non-funders like me. The verdict? I’m thinking, the more-brilliant-than-expected film gave me a significant lesson in Indian politics and democracy… It also inspired ‘significant’ realizations.
The Significance of An Insignificant Man
To think that this movie sets out to prove whether Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the AAM AADMI Party – 2nd-time Chief Minister of Delhi – primary subject of the film, is “the hero we need, or the hero we deserve” or even “a villain” – for that matter, is a grave injustice and disservice to the filmmakers.
In a post movie-screening Q & A – hosted by the makers of the film, everybody had questions – curious, philosophical, impressed, pro-Kejriwal, anti-Kejriwal and even technical film-making questions. And as the directors balanced each question tactfully between each other, one of the answers involved them sharing how a friend that was planning to start a political party in Egypt, intended to watch the film as a case study. And that, I’m thinking, is where the significance of ‘An Insignificant Man’ lies.
(Because before Kejriwal – India’s only reference for starting fresh in politics and making a big change in it, was Anil Kapoor’s – Nayak)
The irony of the film: In a country where the idea of so-called “common men” entering politics and transforming it – was resigned to scripted “Bollywood” films… With ‘An Insignificant Man’ we now have a factual unscripted film, which cinematically documents an actual such occurrence. No narrations, no apparent biases, just a feature-length visual document, showcasing the process of what it takes to start from scratch and acquire victory in Indian politics. And I’m thinking – that’s the valuable insight this film will offer years from now, for any that want to enter politics, as both – an engaging film and historical document.
To reiterate, here’s quoting ex-AAP leader Yogendra Yadav from the film – “For the first time people from a young, idealistic generation are coming forward and saying – No, I don’t want to shun politics, I want to transform politics”
Film, Documentary or Time-Travel?
While An Insignificant Man is shot like a documentary, I’m thinking – it is incredibly edited to play out like an intense, gripping feature film. If you think this is some dry, wearisome political documentary, I’m thinking – you’ll be surprised to find quite a few laughs, eye-openers and a lot of food for thought instead.
The lack of narration, the unguarded candidness, and unscripted incidences captured skillfully, make for a unique and raw experience. As the film constantly left me gaping in wonder like – “how the hell did they get this?” or “how did they manage to be around when this happened?”, I’m thinking I couldn’t help but wonder if the movie makers actually borrowed Harry’s Invisibility Cloak. How did they really get it? Apparently – there was the hubbub of the party contesting elections back then and the ample chaos of uncertain victory. This meant the movie-makers and their cameras were fortunately oft forgotten, leaving them to capture history in its candid glory.
I’m thinking – what makes ‘An Insignificant Man’ more than a documentary or a film, is its intelligent selection of footage and sequencing. Like a character-building capture of Kejriwal’s mother asking him to come home by 11pm. A behind the scenes capture of the voting and post-voting process. A metaphorical shot of Kejriwal in his promotional roadshow, fatefully crossing former Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit in her roadshow, as though foreshadowing the change that was to exchange.
Imagine somebody told you to look at a photo-album and piece together a story from observation alone. An Insignificant Man does that with real footage – selected in a seemingly unbiased manner and sequenced to mime a coherent story. And so for me – this strangely felt a bit like time travel, I’m thinking.
What Does Winning in Politics Demand?
After watching ‘An Insignificant Man’, I’m thinking one has to be prepared to:
Compromise – Nobody, including the leaders of the AAP will deny that they’ve significantly compromised on many initial idealistic claims. They’ve lost key support and leaders under this pretext, yet they’ve historically and unexpectedly won two key elections. The film gives you a glimpse at in-party arguments, thought-provoking explanations and conflicts – resulting from said compromises.
U-turns – Entering politics demands promises, yet once you’re in it – you learn your limitations. Should you risk honesty and stand undeterred with misconceived promises? Or should you risk your reputation and do what you said you wouldn’t? The movie brilliantly covers how the idealistic party is forced to forgo, question and struggle to uphold many of their ideals – early on.
Democracy itself – Let’s say you start a political party and promise that the party’s candidates wouldn’t be selected on favouritism, rather in a democratic manner. All of a sudden – volunteers start forming in-groups to acquire popular in-party votes, in order to win tickets for contesting elections. Is democracy then all about majority votes? And if you claim that the party should only allow qualified candidates to be voted upon – are you being undemocratic? A scene from the film captures a heated altercation between Kejriwal and certain volunteers along the same lines, provoking much philosophical thought.
My Significant Takeaway from An Insignificant Man
(Apart from the fact that I’m thinking I shouldn’t over use words, puns, phrases – so as to not ‘significantly’ irritate readers – “I’m thinking”. Or parentheticals to begin paragraphs…)
In the aforementioned Q & A – I finally got to ask the directors a thing I’d been thinking about for a while, i.e. the same thought I began this review with:
In a country whose politics we’d given up as impossible to clean, when an insignificant man rises to take up the challenge and makes a significant difference, does it make us fellow “Insignificants” feel significantly capable? Or does it ironically make us feel significantly insignificant? Their response – “the film is open to interpretation”. This – I’m thinking – is a karmic circle, since when they asked Kejriwal what he thought about the movie on watching it, he responded to the open-to-interpretation-film with similar open-to-interpretation feedback, by simply saying it was – “Interesting”.
Well, for my part – screw Karma and my easy-to-interpret feedback is – “watch ‘An Insignificant Man’ and watch it again – however you can, it is a brilliant and important film”. One of my biggest regrets as a movie-lover will always be that I wasn’t a crowd-funder for this movie, and after this film – I intend to be a contributor to many such films in the future. When/if this movie finally comes in the theaters, after passing the Fires of Mount Doom (The Indian Censor Board), I certainly intend to pay to re-watch this: my insignificant contribution – to a significant cinematic achievement. Until then, Spread the word about this film, and be sure to like and share the film’s Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/aimthemovie
The directors of this film were part of another brilliant Indian movie – Ship of Theseus, which you can/must/have-to watch on Netflix or wherever – like asap! Khushboo Ranka was a writer on the film, and Vinay Shukhla was a supporting actor. I can’t wait to see the next projects they take on.
Also, it may seem insignificant – but incase you haven’t noticed – I’m thinking I’ve used the word “significant” – a significant number of times now.