Screened at the London Film Festival 2016, a documentary based on the journey of Arvind Kejriwal from ‘aam aadmi’ to Chief Minister of New Delhi is riding a wave of critical praise and awards glory, including the coveted Special Jury Mention prize at the Warsaw Film Festival.
Bombay Funkadelic spoke to Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla, the filmmakers behind the documentary, to find out how difficult it was to get it made and how Kejriwal’s journey compares to the well-known socialist leaders of the West.
By Shai Hussain
Arvind Kejriwal pursued a refreshing socialistic movement in Indian politics and we’ve been seeing similar pursuits in Western politics through such politicians as Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. How do you feel that Arvind succeeded where the other two seem to fail?
K: I’m not sure about Jeremy Corbyn’s actions, but what Arvind did was to focus on the unglamorous jobs in politics. Beyond giving speeches to convince people to vote for his party, he organised volunteer work, where his party did this thing called the ‘door-to-door’ campaign – they went and knocked on every door to try and convince people about themselves as a political viable alternative.
Beyond that, there were several things they did. They had a campaign against electricity bills where Arvind fasted for 15 days. They keep themselves relevant by realising what it is that’s affecting people and addressing those issues, and putting pressure on those organisations responsible. But even after getting into the government, the party haven’t had it any easier. They continue to remain outsiders in a lot of ways, in the way that they keep getting caught in bureaucratic and technical loopholes.
I know that Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders have also been able to recognise the injustice in a lot of these situations, but I’m not aware of how the organisational structure works here.
Kejriwal is painted pretty much as a flawless incorruptible hero in this documentary, almost perfect. Whilst covering him over the years, did you ever find him treading on the dark side?
V: I don’t quite agree with that. It’s true that he managed to come from nowhere and become the Chief Minister. But within the film there are many hints towards the flaws and challenges that he’s faced with. For example, the idea of complete transparency; the challenge of how democratic an organisation can be internally; the idea of populism versus idealism versus politics. You see individual party members having different stances on the party’s politics throughout the film.
K: And also ‘perfect’ is a subjective word. What may be perfect for you may be annoying for someone else. For example, the idea of Delhi’s inhabitants not paying bills for electricity – there’ll be people saying “that’s not how things are done”. He moves towards the bigger picture regardless of the smaller things, but ruffles many feathers on the way. Perfection is all relative.
What are the greatest challenges you faced in the production of the film? Did you face any opposition from political groups in fear that they’d be defamed?
K: Not really. When we were shooting as a small home video unit. I don’t think any of them knew what we were doing with the film. After we finished shooting, we were editing for a year and a half and they never asked us what we were doing. Having said that, there were other challenges.
V: I was upset with the complete lack of institutional support in India. The lack of any sort of mentorship, because this was our first film and we were trying to figure out a lot of things on the go: how can we get it done cheaply, how can we raise money, where can we find people to advise us who’ve done this kind of thing before. We were aware that we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. There is a documentary culture in India, but it was just impossible for us to access. Also, our film got a lot of funding from international institutions like Sundance, Britdoc, IDFA, the Silicon Valley Communication Foundation. But within India, we found ourselves very alienated. Indian institutions were very hesitant to support us. And at the times that they did, they relegated us to the back rooms so that nobody saw us.
But at the same time we should mention that we did a crowdfunding campaign where we were looking to raise $20000 in India. We managed to raise $120000. Close to 800 contributors came in from across the world, from the smallest parts of India and told us that they wanted to see this film. Which was extremely reaffirming. It proved to us that people were interested in our alternative voices.