SHRINIVAS DHARMADHIKARI | 23 NOVEMBER, 2017

The Insignificant Man: Documentary or Docu-fiction?

The Insignificant Man: Documentary or Docu-fiction?


The Insignificant Man, the documentary directed by Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla belongs to the documentary genre of observational cinema where the story is presented as if captured by a “fly on the wall” without the discretionary intervention of the camera.

However, as events unfold, discerning viewers get a distinct impression of a teleological narrative, and to that extent, it is a deceptive description of the film as the story of an insignificant man who posed the biggest threat to establishment after Jai Prakash Narain that is Arvind Kejriwal.

This documentary has been culled out of ready footage of 400 plus hours of shooting. Typologically, it is a deuteragonist film which means besides the protagonist (Arvind Kejriwal, will address him as AK in future references) there is an equally prominent second character that is Yogendra Yadav (will address him as YY in future references).

Since his first entry, YY has been portrayed as the political veteran with the moral high ground and sound ideology. When a TV News Anchor asks him his reasons for joining the then-fledgeling AAP, his answer appears as patronising compliments from a political veteran. This follows a crafty ensemble of footage each one reinforcing the character of YY as selfless ideologue crafting party communication and visual messages, troubleshooter efficiently resolving minor complaints of ticket seekers and crucial scam like framing of Shazia Ilmi in alleged bribery case, explaining longtime party workers the inevitable compulsions of realpolitik right up to being the real architect of the famous AAP vote clincher; the demand for Pani in addition to Bijli.

On the day of Oath taking, YY is shown taking a metro to Ram Lila Maidan and being greeted with resounding applause by the metro goers in the station. However, the climax which any film should be a victory of protagonist comes in this film with a sting in the tail. YY standing in the crowd is looking at the oath-taking ceremony of AK with a sense of fulfilment trying to wipe his victory tears and a halfhearted attempt at raising his hand joining others in the victory celebration and leaving the rally without attending the victory speech of AK. There cannot be a more vivid visual than who the film is trying to make “the significant man”.

It is possible that the director duo is trying to remind us of the Guru Shishya pair of Kautilya and Chandragupta. And no one can dispute their creative freedom if they desire so. However, then it will have to be treated not as a documentary but a docufiction. Once the premise of docufiction is accepted, then the less charitable characterisation of AK seem to fall in place. In my opinion, there are several outstanding qualities of AK which have not found any place in this narrative. His illustrious record including the Magsaysay Award, his rock-solid convictions, ability to withstand total isolation and dastardliest ridicule ever heaped on any public person either by the political community or by the public at large.

The film fails to show how AK coped with this relentless ridicule and isolation. Instead what the directors have done is to paint AK’s persona in subdued colours and blurring edges. What strikes most viewers are his bouts of long introspective silence and his emotional self. What is missing is his solid sense of revulsion towards the establishment. But what has been made obvious is AK’s early confusion during a session with party workers while dealing with conflicting claims of competitive democracy and the creeping temptation for compromises at a corner meeting in the face of demands by few vocal elements for transportation to a polling station.

To its credit, the film has very well depicted the "Delhi Specificity" of the party which is most likely to be a major challenge while trying to universalise its appeal at the national level. And time is already running out.
 

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