The Significance of An Insignificant Man


The Significance of An Insignificant Man

Illustration: Shruti Yatam/Arré

Early one December morning in Delhi, my roommate and I found ourselves perpetuating the monkey man myth on the terrace of our Khirki Extension flat. We had been involved in several low-key brawls with a neighbour over a “racy” Pink Floyd poster, and the sudden appearance of unclaimed trash on our doorstep. As a result, we had been informed that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi had cut off our water supply for “maintenance”. So like any other two (mostly) honest, law-abiding citizens, driven by the desire to go number two, we decided to go steal our water from our neighbour. This involved standing on a terrace in sub-zero temperatures at 4 am, wearing nothing but a light cotton T-shirt so that we wouldn’t get soaked and die of pneumonia. As we passed buckets down in a line, we discussed with energy typical of Delhi boys, how we wouldn’t pay our water bills for the next few months at least. But as usual on the first of the next month, our landlord teleported to our doorstep, shiny gold tooth and all, and extorted ₹600 out of us.

Seven days into this water crisis, by which point my roommate had gone to live with a friend because he had had enough, and I got used to brushing my teeth with a 500ML Bisleri bottle, our water supply magically returned. We immediately went back to our old ways, showering every alternate day, and watering the herb garden when it looked like leaves were close to death. That month when the landlord appeared, things had changed. His gold tooth had turned silver, it seemed, as he morosely informed us that the new Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had decided we wouldn’t have to pay for water anymore. My roommate and I cheered so loud we almost risked getting into another brawl with the neighbour.

A similar sentiment was echoed at the end of a PVR screening of An Insignificant Man in Mumbai this weekend. The epilogue of the documentary announced via subtitles that Arvind Kejriwal had succeeded in achieving his two main plans — slashing electricity rates by 50 per cent and providing 700 litres of free water supply to every household – and the 80-strong crowd went wild. A couple could be heard chanting Kejriwal’s name, and a group of buff TV actors whistled at the screen like they had just seen Rajinikanth flip a cigarette to perfectly balance on the top of the Qutub Minar. I assume these people were thinking the same thing my roommate and I thought that day – they couldn’t believe that a politician had made a promise that actually benefitted the people of his constituency, and managed to deliver on it two months later.

The film An Insignificant Man traces Arvind Kejriwal’s journey from a political activist sitting on dharna to the chief minister of Delhi sitting on dharna. It showcases him as a man with an extraordinary vision; a revolutionary who has to overcome obstacles from political parties with 70 years of experience between themselves, while balancing the fact that he’s just an “ordinary man”. Meanwhile the bytes used from his main competitor, former three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit, display exactly the kind of arrogance we’d expect from our politicians these days. The Congresswoman is first seen refusing to acknowledge that Kejriwal even exists, and then scoffs at the idea that he’ll be able to slash water prices. All through this Kejriwal is in the process of scripting an underdog story in politics that would blow Chak De! India out of the water and make two other insignificant and waterless men very, very happy.

Kejriwal’s mother asks him what time he’ll be home when he’s leaving his house to vote for himself. He replies 11 pm.

The film does have it’s fair share of problems – it omits any mention of Anna Hazare or Kiran Bedi, and includes very little about Manish Sisodia, Prashant Bhushan, or Kumar Vishwas. Yogendra Yadav has a significant role to play – he’s portrayed as an equal to Kejriwal for most of the film – but just as the cracks between the two begin to develop (there is a scene after Kejriwal becomes CM where Yogendra Yadav is shown watching from the crowd), the movie ends. All it offers is a lame subtitle at the end explaining that Yogendra Yadav was fired from the party for “anti-party” activities.

Insignificant Man

The film An Insignificant Man traces Arvind Kejriwal’s journey from a political activist sitting on dharna to the chief minister of Delhi sitting on dharna.
Image Credit : Wikimedia Commons

Still, the film is groundbreaking for its access to AAP’s inner meetings and the way the story is woven together. It shows us a side of politicians we’re not used to seeing. Take for example the way Kejriwal’s mother asks him what time he’ll be home when he’s leaving his house to vote for himself (he replies 11 pm), or the scene in which BJP and Congress politicians are shown having a heated debate on camera, and exchanging pleasantries as soon as the lights are turned off. The same politicians offer Kejriwal a bit of advice on being a seasoned politician – it involves cultivating a TV persona. Kejriwal rejects this piece of advice. His only objective was to take electricity out of the hands of private companies and slash rates by half.

Before Kejriwal was elected to government, I spent an entire summer not sleeping but passing out of dehydration every night. As soon as he came along, the electricty prices went down, and I could afford two hours of sweatless sleep every night. It’s no mean achievement. Giving a taxpayer his sleep is surely fundamental in a functioning democracy. Mumbai has been promising the same taxpayer free WiFi for a few years now, and all they’ve managed so far is a patchy network in Shivaji Park that can just about open Google for you before you step into a pothole. And in that comparison, I think you’ll find the greatest achievement of An Insignificant Man and Arvind Kejriwal – they’ve made us believe in politicians again.