“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.