IN THIS FILM, OUR LENS IS ALMOST ANTHROPOLOGICAL’
What started as mere documentation became a serious project to engage with politics at the ground that gave birth to the Aam Aadmi Party
Souzeina S Mushtaq Delhi
In November 2012, two young filmmakers, Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla, came to Delhi to learn about the anti-corruption movement led by Arvind Kejriwal. What started as mere documentation became a serious project to engage with politics at the ground that gave birth to the Aam Aadmi Party. The documentary, currently being edited, will unleash surprises on the audience, say the filmmakers. Recipients of the IDFA Bertha Fund for documentaries, the duo has other credits as well. Ranka co-scripted Ship of Theseus while Shukla played the role of Charvaka in the film. Excerpts from an interview:
What was the idea behind the making of the documentary?
KR: We did not start out thinking that we are going to make a documentary. It was a gradual process. We came to Delhi in late 2012, out of curiosity, to know what is happening with the anti-corruption movement. Once here, we felt compelled to begin documenting what was happening around us. This documentation was meant to be personal but we kept rolling for a while. We were living with friends in Delhi so every day we would come home and share our footage with them. Our friends were engaged by what they saw and it triggered a debate among them. The party continued to expand in a chaotic, breathless fashion. Then, slowly and steadily, we realized that the story was actually much bigger than we had anticipated. It was not just our friends who were having these debates; everybody was talking politics. That is when we realized we could make a film which can contribute to this dialogue.
Why is it titled ‘Proposition for Revolution’?
KR: The reason we chose this title is because it communicated the nebulous uncertainty of what such a movement/party would mean. One of the revelations I had about the political process while making this film was how it is completely unlike an epic. In fact, it is absurd, quirky, insignificant and imperfect. The word ‘proposition’ allows space for something that is still changing, inconclusive. It also allows space for something that is idealistic, including the idea of a revolution. A revolution implies a grand churning. A proposition, on the other hand, is the banal act of putting things to paper, crunching the numbers. I think the contrast between the two, the visceral and the cerebral, truly encompasses the scope of our film. This is what we hope our film will communicate.
What new information will your documentary offer?
KR: This is one of those recurring questions in the canons of documentary filmmaking. One way to see documentaries is as an introspective, looking back at a cluster of events from a more wholesome lens. This is opposed to news broadcasts, which function with a kind of urgency, and transmit stories existing largely in the vacuum of immediacy. Another way to see documentaries is that they allow more time for poetry, absurdity and profundity. It allows for what John Grierson called ‘creative treatment of actuality’. So a film allows for more breathing space, and even more humanity.
VS: However, in the case of our documentary, there is an additional complexity to consider, which is to say that we shot with them at a time when there were absolutely no media crews following them. So we have captured the story when it was still becoming news. The fact that AAP won 28 seats in Delhi came as a huge surprise to a lot of people in the media as well. This was because there was a major disconnect in the story on the ground and the media narrative.
Since you followed AAP closely, what is your impression of the party? Did you ever have a leaning for them?
KR: We started shooting as blank slates, willing to absorb what was happening. Over the course of making this documentary we learnt to balance our inclinations, at least for the sake of the film. We hope our documentary will incite discussions over conclusions. Answering this question with a simple yes or no would mean reducing ideas, which are much larger.
In our crew itself, there are Congress supporters and BJP supporters. It expands our own perspective. The canonical documentary filmmaker, Frederick Wiseman, emphasized that in spite of the inescapable bias that is introduced in the process of ‘making a movie’, he still feels he has certain ethical obligations regarding how he portrays the events in his films. And which is what we feel too. Our responsibility is not to misrepresent for the sake of titillating the audience.
VS: In this film, our lens is almost anthropological. In fact, AAP is just a vehicle to explore deeper questions such as the role of a citizen in a democracy. Currently, there is actually a global narrative of documentaries on people’s movements worldwide – a film on the anti-corruption party in Italy (School of Democracy), another one in Colombia (Democrazy), and a film on the Egyptian revolution (The Square). Incidentally, two of these films have been crowd-funded and one was nominated for the Oscars.
You are also crowd sourcing for funding which is a relatively new concept in India. Why? How much money do you need for post-production?
VS: Our film is a documentary set in contemporary politics and investors did not find that an interesting proposition. Those who were interested in investing wanted to know if we are supporting AAP or are against it, and we did not want to take money from people who had these concerns because it would compromise our position. So we went for crowd-funding. We are looking to raise a minimum of Rs 12 lakh
through our campaign website, www.prop4rev.com.
KR: Documentaries have traditionally found it difficult to reach out to bigger audiences. But the crowd-funding campaign has received unprecedented support. We raised 50 per cent of our goal in less than 10 days! The campaign has already demonstrated that there are people out there who would like to watch documentaries like ours. We wanted to use crowd-funding to raise money, but also wanted it to be a community-owned film. This would ensure that the film releases, and is seen widely, where the contributors become ambassadors and owners of the film in an organic way.
How do you look at filming politics?
VS: Well, in terms of shooting logistics, permissions were fairly easy to obtain. We approached the party and they welcomed the idea. What was difficult for us was to physically keep up with them. Initially, there was just Khushboo and me and then our friend, Vinay Rohira, joined us. The three of us basically ran all over Delhi, with our equipment on our shoulders, and covered everything possible. AAP burst onto the scene and expanded in every direction. There were so many things happening at the same time and the party kept growing and adapting. We had to constantly reimagine the film and readjust ourselves so as to keep up with all the surprises that AAP threw up.
It takes time for people to get used to being filmed continuously. Most people could not quite figure why we were shooting continuously because they felt that their work was rather mundane and not worthy of so much attention.
What are your expectations from the documentary?
KR: The main idea that drove us was to get closer to the politics. Imagine national leaders on the big screen, and our reactions to their mistakes, vulnerabilities and even frivolities.
We hope that the film is seen widely and discussed extensively. We have been able to turn our cameras to some very unusual and interesting situations and conversations. We hope that the audiences will be surprised and engaged.