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In ‘An Insignificant Man’, Arvind Kejriwal’s first electoral win becomes a suspense thriller

The documentary by Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla maps the victory of the Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi assembly election in 2013.

An Insignificant Man presents Indian politics as high drama and an election as a nail-biting thriller that goes down to the wire.

The engaging and deftly crafted documentary by Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla alternates between fly-on-the-wall account and embedded chronicle of AAP’s campaign to win the Delhi assembly election in 2013. Using hundreds of hours of footage shot over a year and a half, the film relies on observational camerawork (by Shukla, Ranka and Vinay Rohira) and skillful editing (by Abhinav Tyagi and Manan Bhatt) to chart the transformation of an anti-corruption movement into a political party rising to power. (It resigned after only 49 days in power and was re-elected in 2015.)

This is a feature-length and three-act saga of heroes, villains and casualties, told through handheld shots collected over a span of time and from different locations. Arvind Kejriwal, the former Indian Revenue Service officer who became Chief Minister of Delhi on the promise of clean and efficient governance, emerges as the driver of the narrative. Described as a supporter as thin and weak, Kejriwal demonstrates many instances of his strength, resolve and adaptability. He declares that AAP will never contest elections, then decides to march on Delhi, and changes his views on inner-party democracy when it comes to selecting election candidates.

In a telling sequence, Kejriwal smoothly swats away a member’s question about whose opinion will actually prevail in the candidate selection. My will needs to operate too, Kejriwal says with a steely smile, before charitably adding, your contribution is your right.

An Insignificant Man.

Demagogue or democrat? The documentary claims neutrality by adopting an as-it-happened voice, but the admiration for Kejriwal’s gumption is unmistakable. There is no Voice of God narrator to guide audiences but many overhead shots and sweeping views of AAP volunteers streaming through Delhi’s neighbourhoods and banging down doors to persuade voters to ink their fingers in their favour.

When not viewing AAP’s rise from above, the filmmakers are on the ground with party members, many of whom have never been involved with politics or an election before. The intimacy of the footage and its urgent television news quality accentuate AAP’s popular image as a party that emerged out of the dust and rage of Delhi’s streets.

In one of the few personal moments in the 109-minute documentary, as Kejriwal leaves his house on voting day, his mother asks him what time he will return. Kejriwal laughs: it will be a long night.

An Insignificant Man is the second documentary after Lalit Vachani’s An Ordinary Election (2015) to focus on the 2013 Delhi assembly election, which was the first of two contested by the Aam Aadmi Party. The documentaries are different in scope and ambition but share some similarities. Both use AAP to explore the birth of a political challenger; both concentrate on AAP’s maverick tactics; both use the 2013 election as the framing device; both benefit tremendously from the access and relative freedom they were given to record party meetings, campaign tours and controversies from up close.

Indeed, no other Indian political party has allowed filmmakers to prowl around its offices with recording equipment this way. This trust reposed in strangers tells us a few things about AAP, all of which are fruitfully explored by Ranka and Shukla: the party has nothing to hide and little to lose and understands the power of the image since it has benefitted from media attention from its inception.

An Insignificant Man. Courtesy Memesys Culture Lab.
An Insignificant Man. Courtesy Memesys Culture Lab.

Villains and casualties emerge in this epic tale of the outsider who becomes the insider. Sheila Dikshit of the Congress, who was Delhi Chief Minister at the time, appears as a blinkered opponent who remains dismissive of Kejriwal’s chances until it’s too late. Kejriwal’s juggernaut also claims some of its own as casualties. Among the tragic figures is Yogendra Yadav, the psephologist and academic who was expelled from AAP in 2015 after differences with the leadership. The segments featuring Yadav suggest that this was coming – he struggles to keep pace with Kejriwal’s spontaneous decision making, and at one point can even be seen clutching his head.

Although An Insignificant Man tries to stay away from a retrospective reading by presenting events in a linear timeline, the section featuring Yadav works best only because of what we now know about his split from the party. This sub-plot serves as a neat climax to a three-act story. It does not address the criticism that Kejriwal might survive without AAP, but it seems clear that the party would find it hard to exist without him.

The countdown approach creates an infectious sense of energy and tension despite a known outcome, but it is ultimately self-limiting: it precludes analysis and is too caught up in the moment to hazard guesses about AAP’s future beyond Delhi. The film recreates its present (2012 and 2013), but lacks the foresight to speak to our present (2017). It works perfectly as an exhaustive electoral campaign documentary, but is too self-enclosed to examine the social and political conditions that resulted in AAP’s conquest of Delhi, which go beyond exposes of scams in power distribution and water supply.

An Insignificant Man. Courtesy Memesys Culture Lab.
An Insignificant Man. Courtesy Memesys Culture Lab.

Documentaries have the power to be both eye-witness as well as clairvoyant. Mani Kaul’s Before My Eyes, set in Kashmir before the onset of militancy in 1989, is both a gorgeous nature documentary as well as a poignant snapshot of a paradise that is about to be lost. A young boy picks up reeds from a lake before being erased from the frame. As a camera pans over snow-covered mountains, the sound of the jarring motors of the helicopter from which the sequence has been shot is an unmistakable aural premonition.

Kejriwal’s questionable influence beyond Delhi is the indirect subject of Kamal Swaroop’s Battle for Banaras (2015). Swaroop’s sprawling account of the contest between Kejriwal and Narendra Modi for the Varanasi parliamentary constituency in 2014 follows Kejriwal on his campaign trail but is also aware of Modi’s assured victory and his future grip of the Indian imagination. Modi is depicted as a spectral presence in the film, viewed as towering cutouts and flex banners, and is seen in a long shot on a ghat, surrounded by saffron flags and religious figures.

The Bharatiya Janata Party gave AAP a close contest in the 2013 Delhi assembly election, but were vanquished in the second, and more crucial, re-election that followed in 2015. Why did Delhi’s voters choose to make Kejriwal their chief minister yet again although he resigned after only 49 days? An Insignificant Man suggests that Kejriwal’s handling of the issues that matter, such as power and water supply, won him the first round. A sequel that explains his second, and more significant victory, needs to be made too. Perhaps it will be known as A Very Significant Man.

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Advice from an ex-robber on how to keep your home safe

Tips on a more hands-on approach of keeping your house secure.

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1. Get inside the mind of a burglar

Before I break the lock of a home, first I bolt the doors of the neighbouring homes. So that, even if someone hears some noise, they can’t come to help.

— Som Pashar, committed nearly 100 robberies.

Burglars study the neighbourhood to keep a check on the ins and outs of residents and target homes that can be easily accessed. Understanding how the mind of a burglar works might give insights that can be used to ward off such danger. For instance, burglars judge a house by its front doors. A house with a sturdy door, secured by an alarm system or an intimidating lock, doesn’t end up on the burglar’s target list. Upgrade the locks on your doors to the latest technology to leave a strong impression.

Here are the videos of 3 reformed robbers talking about their modus operandi and what discouraged them from robbing a house, to give you some ideas on reinforcing your home.


2. Survey your house from inside out to scout out weaknesses

Whether it’s a dodgy back door, a misaligned window in your parent’s room or the easily accessible balcony of your kid’s room, identify signs of weakness in your home and fix them. Any sign of neglect can give burglars the idea that the house can be easily robbed because of lax internal security.

3. Think like Kevin McCallister from Home Alone

You don’t need to plant intricate booby traps like the ones in the Home Alone movies, but try to stay one step ahead of thieves. Keep your car keys on your bed-stand in the night so that you can activate the car alarm in case of unwanted visitors. When out on a vacation, convince the burglars that the house is not empty by using smart light bulbs that can be remotely controlled and switched on at night. Make sure that your newspapers don’t pile up in front of the main-door (a clear indication that the house is empty).

4. Protect your home from the outside

Collaborate with your neighbours to increase the lighting around your house and on the street – a well-lit neighbourhood makes it difficult for burglars to get-away, deterring them from targeting the area. Make sure that the police verification of your hired help is done and that he/she is trustworthy.

While many of us take home security for granted, it’s important to be proactive to eliminate even the slight chance of a robbery. As the above videos show, robbers come up with ingenious ways to break in to homes. So, take their advice and invest in a good set of locks to protect your doors. Godrej Locks offer a range of innovative locks that are un-pickable and un-duplicable. To secure your house, see here.

The article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Godrej Locks and not by the Scroll editorial team.