Capturing a movement

In the eye of a revolution Co-directors Khusbhoo Ranka and Vinay Shukla
In the eye of a revolution Co-directors Khusbhoo Ranka and Vinay Shukla. Photo: Vijay Pandey

It is the eve of the Lok Sabha election in Delhi, and the air is thick with anticipation. 28-year-old filmmakers Khusbhoo Ranka and Vinay Shukla, along with a five-member crew are working feverishly on editing 400 hours of footage and raising funds for Proposition for a Revolution, a 90-minute documentary produced by Anand Gandhi that follows the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) from its inception to the time it formed the government. At the outset, a film on AAP was not what the duo had in mind. The idea was to take a closer look at how political processes played out on the ground.

The duo set out for the Capital at a time when the India against Corruption movement had lost steam. Although there were murmurs of a small fraction of the anti-corruption crusaders from the movement forming a political party but what lay ahead was shrouded in uncertainty. At first the idea was to capture how politics unfolds on ground, through the prism of different political parties. However, their request for access to other political parties was turned down. Back then, AAP was still in its formative stages. “We arrived at a time when they had just held a press conference against Mukesh Ambani,” says Ranka who co-wrote Ship of Theseus with Anand Gandhi. At that time, there was no media following the group that was to become AAP. Nobody knew who this entity was. They didn’t have a name. They were a group of individuals unsure of what they were doing. Yet they decided to stay on.

“We wanted to capture what goes into the formation of a new political party and the kind of responses that the system elicits from the public,” adds Ranka.

For 13 months, from November 2012 till the time AAP formed the government in December 2013, the duo shot jan sabhas, rallies, grassroots campaigns, and got unprecedented access to the meetings of the newly formed political party. “There were discussions on the party’s manifesto and grassroots strategies, but the meetings were informal, unlike anything we expected them to be,” say the filmmakers, who admit that they hadn’t been following the movement with as much fervour and understanding initially. “We knew as much as the media told us,” they say.

For the first three months, the duo found temporary refuge at a friend’s place in Mukherjee Nagar, a hub for IAS coaching centres in West Delhi. So, while they spent their days following the party’s daily functioning, the nights were often embroiled in passionate discussions around governance with friends in the neighbourhood. “While we were witnessing the organic nature of political parties, IAS aspirants we interacted with, had an informed understanding of the functioning of institutions. These were people who had strong ideas about governance and structural changes. Incidentally, the AAP’s discourse was also largely about structural changes to the government. And, both shared a sense of idealism,” says Shukla.

Although the directors were privy to the activities of the party, they decided to take a step back and watch them from a distance. There are no interviews in the film and the camera was simply an observer. “We decided against focussing on personalities. Instead, we chose to focus on processes. Politics has such a subjective space in our lives. And we wanted to explore what it means at the public imagination level, what it means at the individual level, and what happens when these two versions collide. These were areas we wanted to explore, says Ranka.

The promise of change Arvind Kejriwal adresses a gathering
The promise of change Arvind Kejriwal adresses a gathering. Photo: Friendly People

The filmmakers also turned to the public to understand how people engaged with politics. They followed the party to different constituencies to capture the diversity of the environment and public sentiment. “There were questions and scrutiny everywhere we went. There was an amplified interest in the political processes amongst people on the street. There was quirkiness, absurdity in the interactions, and that is what made it beautiful,” says Shukla. The film also captures how the role of the media is ingrained in the AAP story. Admitting that the film provides no definitive answers, the filmmakers aim to keep the dialogue on political discourse in the country going. Working on a subject that was constantly evolving, it was a challenge to choose what to focus on while shooting. “When we started shooting, we had no idea what the future of this party would be and therefore, we had to constantly re-imagine the subject. We were taken by surprise when they formed the government in Delhi,” says Ranka. And, that is the moment when they decided to stop shooting for logistical and conceptual reasons.

“We expected them to stay in power for two to three years and covering that would have made the film a three-part saga, which is not what we wanted. If we had known it would be a 49-day government, we would have stuck around. That would have added a new dimension to the film,” says Shukla.

The film has been made on a shoe-string budget, with a seven member crew. Each individual learnt to juggle between the camera, sound and editing. Although the initial amount required to shoot the film came in from the IDFA Bertha fund that they won, the film-makers had to dip into their personal savings to keep going. They have now started a crowd funding campaign for the post-production of their film, which has managed to gather over 44 percent of its requirement. Meanwhile, a promo of the film that was released recently, has received an overwhelming response.

In order to ensure the narrative is comprehensive and neutral, editor Sanyukta Kaza insists on seeing the footage without being told a back story. “I like to see the footage first to understand the context. My disconnect with the subject combined with their perspective helps ensure that we have a neutral point of view,” says Kaza.

As for timing the release, the duo feel although the polls are an opportune time for it, they run the risk of the film turning into a polarising factor. Instead, the film will now release in either August or September. “We were clear we didn’t want the film to be pro- or anti-AAP. We wanted it to provide an understanding of politics through the successes and failures of the party,” says Shukla.

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