Surrounded by the smell of Butter Chicken and Naan bread, Arwind Kejriwal sets out to challenge a corrupt Indian democracy. Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shuklas have spent more than 400 hours filming the transition from activism to political party and present a level-headed and topical film at this year’s CPH:DOX.

Arvind Kejriwal was actually a tax-official. Then, together with a group of activists, he drafted an anti-corruption bill in New Delhi. The bill received such popular support that the group decided to form a political party. Activists turn politicians and The Common Mans Party (AAP) became reality.

Objectivity and paper hats

Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shuklas found themselves sitting in New Delhi discussing if the new party would be successful. The two instructors soon realised that they did not know enough about the party and decided to investigate the matter further with a documentary. Late 2012 they phoned the young party and got permission to film them. This was what was to become An insignificant Man, a film where the directors take up as little room as possible: “We tried to be invisible, we used really small cameras, small microphones and no light. We never interviewed them we just observed”, Khushboo explains.

If the directors tried to be invisible, the party they were filming aimed for the opposite. Whenever the new party members were in public they wore some very characteristic white paper hats.

The white paper hats turned out to be very effective; Vinay says: “The white paper hats are a symbol for this new party that was making its way in to Indian politics. Going out to various corners of Delhi to shoot we would meet a landscape of people going about their normal lives and then in the corner you see these white hats and then you know where you had to go to shoot”.

The white hats refer back to Mahatma Gandhi, who in his days turned the white hat into a symbol. Khushboo sees the AAP’s use of the historical symbol as quite deliberate: “Their policies were populist. The white hat with all its historical and political references recalls a freedom fight, Gandhi. It’s a reference to an idealistic era, a time with “true leaders””.

Podemos and Donald Trump

The AAP is an Indian party, but Vinay and Khushboo recognise their populist approach to politics in other political movements around the world. That goes for the Spanish Podemos, the Greek Syriza and even Donald Trump. Vinay explains: “I think that we are living in times with increased political consciousness. Many people want to make a difference. When we screened the film in the Spanish city of Valencia, we were surprised about passionate debate the film started. The conflicts in AAP are repeated in Podemos. People have even compared Arvind Kejriwal to Donald Trump because Donald Trump reflects a want for direct intervention. People want someone who listens and they vote for those who will listen.”

Khusboo adds: “There are so many comparisons with Podemos and Syriza. When we had the debate in Spain about Podemos it was so interesting because it felt like this debate could have taken place in India or Toronto”.

Soon the debate will take place Copenhagen when Vinay Shuklas visits CPH:DOX.

Read Soundvenues 4 star review here.