UMA DA CUNHA | 16 SEPTEMBER, 2016
'An Insignificant Man' Ignites World Screens, Kejriwal Rise Strikes a Chord
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 held late night 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 lower 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 two directors, allowed close access from 2013 to 2015, to Kejriwal’s campaign trail, remain unobtrusive as they document Kejriwal’s movements from within his office to out in the streets and public platforms. There are no added interviews. The film augments its own original material with select news footage as they follow Kejriwal and candidly present his loyal supporters, his chaotic political rallies and crowded office meetings milling with his enthusiastic band of loyal supporters. It presents the developing cracks in the party’s own work force and its upper echelons and its rough and stormy ride as it champions difficult reforms and new bills.
Ranka and Shukla, with executive producer Anand Gandhi, were able to make this film through a massive independent crowd funding effort.
The critics here have noted that ‘An Insignificant Man’ is a vital, on-the-ground look of the phenomenon that is the AAP, adding that more than a portrait of Kejriwal, Ranka and Shukla have created a portrait of a country with 29 official languages and 1.3 billion people struggling to achieve real democracy.
For anyone watching this documentary, it is an elevating, involving experience of a country at stake seeking fresh solutions. The film connects universally which is evident in Canadian critic Charles Trapunski’s statement “Unspoken in this documentary, but loudly echoing, is that the American political spectrum lacks a Arvind Kejriwal, who is a truly insignificant man.”