Thursday, March 1, 2018

Hardly Insignificant

Hope. Compromise. Failure.

Arvind Kejriwal embodies all three and in 95 minutes of an extraordinary documentary, Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla let the camera tell it like it is.

In retrospect, what Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) managed was nothing novel. In the make-believe world of Indian commercial movies, it happens all the time. Though the real India is one of the most corrupt nations on earth at every level, in our movies it is always a happy ending. The corrupt system chokes the good guy, who then takes on it and after many trials and tribulations, wins.

That someone would be mad enough to attempt this in real life and make it happen was what took us by surprise.

Irrespective of what side of the political spectrum you fall on, do watch this documentary.

“An Insignificant Man” (AIA) will not change your opinion of who Kejriwal is nor does it try to. 

At the same time, you can plunge head-on into the teething problems of a new political outfit in a crazy democracy like India.

The folks at VICE have done us the courtesy of sharing it for free (YouTube link here) while ensuring that at least some income has been generated for its makers.

As Kejriwal and team cross that shaky bridge from activism to active politics, the camera ruthlessly reveals the discomfort and exposes the now-required hypocrisy. Immediately after a combative interview with an Aaj Tak journalist, Kejriwal is shown in deep study of his lowermost shirt button, his on-camera bravado now bogus and his awkwardness very real. In one riveting section, Kejriwal is taken to task by his volunteers for abandoning his ‘volunteers will choose who will get tickets, not me’ stance for a very dictatorial ‘I am the only one without an agenda so I make the final call’.

AIA is strewn with moments of cinematic gold like that where the practical world combats idealism and noble intentions are quietly buried. The impact of the scenes is only doubled when you remind yourself that this is not a story, this is real life!

Also visible in full measure, is the optimism people still leftover in people, despite decades of corruption, oppression and all-round hopelessness. That people still believed in the possibility of an honest political party is a credit to both Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the common man’s naivete, if you want to call it that.

If what I have written so far makes the documentary sound like a hit job on Arvind Kejriwal, my apologies.

Kejriwal is definitely the star of AIA and the deep faith that people have reposed in him has also been given due emphasis. But to not highlight Kejriwal’s and AAP’s deviations from the ‘high ground’ would have been dishonest of this brilliant documentary and it takes special care not to do so.

AIA does a great job of capturing Arvind’s surging popularity, specifically in the 2011-2014 period when for the long-fooled public, he was the messiah. Making issues like corruption, water and power central to his manifesto instead of the usual communal/patriotic pitches of the mainstream parties, he really carves up a special place for himself and his party.

The suspicious death of Santosh Koli, a popular grassroots level MLA candidate for his party and its impact on her co-revolutionaries is also very poignantly captured. It leaves one thinking whether it is really worth the trouble standing up to the powers-that-be. We are lucky that someone somewhere always does, leaving us to enjoy the benefits of their sacrifice.

The sheer disregard and disrespect that the BJP and the Congress had for AAP, which gradually turns into fear and very soon sets up them for spectacular electoral defeat - is the most rousing arc of the story. The reality of electoral promises and processes cause AAP to re-calibrate their mission in ways they had vehemently opposed in the past, right down to allying with the same party they had thrown out of power.

It is possible to do the impossible but as it turns out, impossible is only a variant of the possible, not the polar opposite of it.

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