The observational documentary, or direct cinema, or cinéma vérité, or any other term by which you want to call it, democratises the medium. Of that there is no doubt. The idea of using the camera as an objective and observational tool, without imposing any preconceived ideology or beliefs on it, in order that the subject under watch may reveal itself - is itself a revelation.
But when applied to a political movement, or to a politician, there is a caveat to this democratic use of cinema. Who supplies the access to information? What is the nature of the trust relationship between maker and subject that allows the camera to run without hinderance, even in private moments? It is the good old journalistic aphorism of the ’source’. The investigative journalist would say that he or she is not obliged to reveal the source of his or her information. True. But like that journalist, there is no doubt that the makers of ‘An Insignificant Man’ are privileged by access. In fact, so comfortable are Arvind Kejriwal and his colleagues with the camera in this film, that they appear not to notice it. This is quite a coup in recording a man who is, in the words of one of his colleagues, not very camera friendly, and who always looks at the photographer angrily, and without much humour.
In keeping with the objective documentary tradition, there are no intrusive voice overs in the film guiding us, or telling us what to think or believe. This is good. The makers restrict themselves to using the occasional sub-title to present the historical and ideological basis to the people's movement that led to the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the rise of Arvind Kejriwal as a leader of an anti-corruption party that was eventually elected to Office twice, in succession. The first Government was short lived because the Party was not in a majority, but the second was an overwhelming victory that led to a stable Government in Delhi.
Interestingly, the film ends after the first inconclusive electoral verdict, and the rest of the events, including the AAP sweep in the second election, are described, chronologically, with sub-titles. This decision seems to tie up with the notion of connecting the AAP movement to other popular democratic, anti-establishment revolutions around the world, like the ‘Arab Spring’ in Egypt.
But then this is also a selective projection in the documentary, which allows for the deliverance on the manifesto of AAP to be mentioned, like the massive cuts in water and electricity bills, which were, naturally, very popular with supporters and the general public alike. But this decision to end the film after the first mandate, also allows the makers to avoid mentioning the almost daily hurdles and clashes with the Central Government that the AAP subsequently faced, and which led to a great deal of ineffectiveness in Governance. it is also a convenient place to end the film, because then the many embarrassing fallouts that Kejriwal has had with his erstwhile colleagues in the movement, or the reasons for them, need not be mentioned.
All said, ‘An Insignificant Man’ is an informative film, but since we have been made so familiar, through our news channels, with the ideas and the story of the movement and its central protagonist, it does not strike any particular emotive chord. Nor is the movie a cinematic breakthrough in the long tradition of the expository documentary. And, lets face it, Arvind Kejriwal may be the revolutionary of Delhi, but as far as charisma and a photogenic face goes, he ain’t no Che Guevara.
To bolster his somewhat dreary photographic image, there is a scene of Kejriwal at home, on vote counting day, sitting up in bed and donning his iconic headgear, the muffler. Then he says goodbye to his mother, and ventures forth bravely into the Delhi smog.