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The Theatrical Release Of ‘An Insignificant Man’ Is A Battle Won For Documentary Filmmakers

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“What is it like to capture realism on camera? Well, how much of the observational footage you shoot eventually makes a part of the final cut? When do you stop shooting and when exactly you make that decision to stop? Being a filmmaker, you might be the fly but are you ‘on the wall’ or ‘in the soup’? How do you decide where are you going to be shooting at what moment? How do you make sure that your subject isn’t performing or responding on/to camera? Are you able to make a distinction between the two?”

These and many other questions pertaining to structure keep coming to your head as you venture into the vast world of documentary filmmaking.

Well, I being one of them, am an ardent follower of contemporary non-fiction content and I’m always on a lookout for new emerging ideas. One day in 2014, when I was doing my undergraduate studies, I came across a post reading ‘Proposition for a Revolution’ (now, “An Insignificant Man”) on Memesys Culture Lab’s Facebook page (then Recyclewala Films).

Later, they released a teaser with filmmakers pitching for crowdfunding campaign. They ended up being supported by 782 funders contributing for the film. For a long time later, there were constant updates about film travelling to prestigious international film festivals across the world (50 in total). Finally in early 2017, the filmmakers applied for a theatrical release certificate and thus came the usual controversy where they were asked to get NOC from the politicians it features.

Having waited for so long, I was of the view that they should simply upload it on internet (like Kaafiron ki Namaaz did) to reach its audience. They were smart enough not to act on the impulse but took a decision that worked on a broader level which was to fight. Releasing the film in theatres has brought about the endless possibilities of making non-fiction cinema in India. They were right when they said they were at the right place at the right time. I completely agree, this is such an exciting time to be a documentary filmmaker in India. This film is a time stamp in the history of non-fiction Indian cinema capturing the revolutionary outsiders making a mark in Indian politics.

Shooting 400 hours of footage of a political party (then in-making) with a limited crew and making a 95 minute documentary out of it is a monumental task to start with. The mind can often go haywire looking at the insane amount of footage and especially in documentaries where you script the film while you edit. “An Insignificant Man” as a film, does a marvelous job in bringing out the whole argument together.

The film puts in a lot of thought in what they are showing and how. In this case, ‘Idealism Vs Politics’, tracing the journey of an outsider and covering lots of behind-the-scenes footage of a political party. At no single time it puts the protagonist on the pedestal, but looks at him from a distance through the journalistic but observational lens. It intervenes, but by not taking sides. The strength lies in the fact as to how it uses unlimited access to its own advantage, by covering an altogether a different perspective.

It’s a hybrid docu-drama that uses news screen and 24×7 TV updates to stitch together the narrative and move forward. It sets out a timeline and chronologically sets out the entire plot bit by bit.

As a film student, I studied the three-act structure in script-writing sessions which kept coming back as I watched the film. An “Insignificant Man” structures itself like the scripted film which also happens because of the actual drama behind the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

It even borrows tools from the fiction in the way it depicts characters in the film. Especially in terms of how Kejriwal,the protagonist was shown. The film humanizes him, depicting how he is one of us. A scene as simple as mother’s conversation with Kejriwal before leaving home, him breaking into endless laughter or Sheila Dikshit rejoicing to Daler Mehendi’s anthem for her party. The film is filled with such honest intricate moments that we otherwise don’t get to witness.

It brings in a lot of intellectualism and humour subtly flowing throughout. I don’t remember the last time I saw an audience being so involved and engrossed in the film, and it wasn’t a niche audience. I am glad how the audience is evolving over time with good content.

Every time a documentary releases in theatres, it encourages dozens of other filmmakers to step up and reach out for more. From “Katiyabaaz“, “The World Before Her“, “Sachin” to “An Insignificant Man”, the documentary movement has came a long way and it will become better.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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