Interview: Vinay Shukla and Khushboo Ranka

Young filmmakers Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla started filming the anti-corruption revolution in 2012 out of sheer curiosity. What began as a personal project has now turned into a documentary, which gives an unbiased peek into the birth and the working of the Aam Aadmi Party. Titled ‘Proposition for a Revolution’, the documentary is produced by ‘Ship of Theseus’ director Anand Gandhi and is now in its post-production stage. The film won the IDFA Bertha Fund for documentaries and is now out with a global pitch to crowdfund its post-production so that it can release later this year. Last heard, the makers have collected almost Rs 10,23,923 from 485 contributors.

The filmmakers speak about filming and how it affected their thought process in a chat with THE WEEK.

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How did the thought of filming the anti-corruption movement come up? What was on your minds when you started filming them?

Khushboo: It just happened really. I have no direct access to politics, like most people I suppose. But like most people, we were getting interested in the transition of a people movement into a political party. So we came to Delhi to see what was happening, started shooting and before we knew it, we were making a documentary about a sprouting political party. When we started filming, we didn’t know what to expect. Which is why as documentary filmmakers, we had to be quick on our feet, anticipating currents in the story and allowing them to carry the narrative forward.

Vinay:  We didn’t quite know what we were getting into when we started documenting the party in late 2012. We were following the party on an impulse. We were curious. Slowly, it became evident that the story playing out in Delhi was much bigger than what we had initially anticipated. Our friend and associate director, Vinay Rohira, came down from Mumbai and began to work with us. A few more colleagues from Delhi joined us. The party was expanding and growing in every direction in a breathless way. So it was hard to keep up with the party with the limited resources we had. We couldn’t hire professionals since we couldn’t afford them so all of us learnt to use the camera and sound equipment. The sneak peek that you have seen has been entirely shot and produced by all of us. We have filmed everything with the limited resources we had.

How did you manage to make such intimate inroads into the functioning of AAP?

Khushboo: We met them (AAP) at a time when there were no cameras around them. They were just beginning to build something. We would wake up every day; go with our cameras and shoot. Doing this for a year allowed us more access than say, a TV channel, just because people knew our faces. They also realised we were not doing on-the-go kind of news reporting, that this was something different.
Vinay: When we started filming, the AAP was still very small scale. Their main office was on the outskirts of Delhi, in Kaushambi. Nobody was covering them intensively because most people didn’t think they had a chance in the political arena. We got interested in their story and we approached them. They welcomed the idea.

Do you think documentary as a form has the power to trigger change?

Vinay: Of course, documentaries have the power to trigger change but “change” is not the de facto function of documentaries. All of us would like a better society and I believe that people are trying in their own ways. Surely we must not burden one art form with the responsibility of bringing about change since it can be quite an overbearing responsibility. It’s important to see documentary as an art form. Yes documentaries have a journalistic immediacy to them and hence people have similar expectations from them but documentary filmmakers aren’t just journalists. They are artists. All artists and audiences have an open-ended relationship wherein they reach out to each other and shape each other various.
Khushboo: I think that any art form has the ability to trigger change and should provoke audiences. However, altruism is not the only reason to make documentaries. Documentaries have long borne the brunt of being boring and marginalised. So as artists we feel the need to re-imagine the boundaries of documentaries. I think that there is a serious lack of “art”, which engages the larger population in a disruptive or provocative manner. Most of our films are entirely constructed to represent manicured, fragrant, apolitical and completely non-existent geographies. What I am trying to say is that some of the best art in the world has come out of being a refugee, challenging powerful establishment. The one person who has been able to do that is Arundhati Roy, I think. Bring aesthetics to politics.

What is the idea behind the crowd funding exercise? How has the response been?

Vinay: We have approached everybody under the roof for funds but people are very hesitant. Our film is a documentary set in contemporary politics and investors don’t find that as an interesting proposition. Those who were interested in investing, wanted to know if we are supporting AAP or against it. We didn’t want to take money from people who had these concerns because it somewhere compromise our position. At the same tie, we have a topical film and we would like to get the material out as soon as possible. We have approached international broadcasters, financiers, funds and we are now finally coming to crowd funding.

Khushboo: The crowdfunding 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. Some people are pledging money towards our campaign, some are pledging their skills while many are simply sharing it amongst their friends and reaffirming our belief in this project.  So on the one hand we wanted to use crowdfunding to raise money, but on the other we also wanted it to be a community-owned film.

As young filmmakers, what are the challenges you have faced in completing this film?

Vinay: That people don’t take you seriously when you approach them because they think you are too young for anything productive. On a more serious note, there is the usual “resource-crunch” situation, which everybody goes through irrespective of age. No money, no support. What would have been great is if we could talk to more people about the project while we are working on it. It was extremely overwhelming when we started this film because there was so much happening on ground and we didn’t quite have people/mentors to go to. Our most ready resource for knowledge and guidance was the internet and friends. It would have been great if there were a community of documentary filmmakers or enthusiasts with whom we could share our project and updates. We went to DocEdge Kolkata this year and it was such a respite to meet other documentary filmmakers and share our journey with them, especially those who are also trying to make their first film. It makes you feel like you are a part of something bigger. IDFA was a similar experience. They called us to Amsterdam, gave us an edit master class with their editor, introduced us to filmmakers and distributors and allowed us to attend their annual pitching event—all of this at no cost at all. These experiences have been of such immense value to us.

How has the filming process and your interactions with the AAP helped in shaping your views about the party? The film, you claim follow a neutral fly on the wall approach, but do your sympathies lie with the AAP?

Khushboo: The AAP is a quick learner. They adapt very quickly to their surroundings and circumstances and that’s what makes them the force they are right now. It was interesting to see them grow in this breathless fashion over the course of the year that we were with them. Their unpredictability gives them a certain edge over the players. Though it made our lives very difficult because we didn’t know what they would do next. And that remains the case.
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, for the sake of the film. Today we can say that no one thing is conclusive, or even true. One thing we hope our documentary will do is incite discussions, over conclusions. There is a lot of grey, a lot of ambiguity and the exciting thing to do is to embrace that without a final flourish. I guess what I am trying to say is that, answering this question in a simple yes or no would mean reducing ideas which are much larger. In our crew itself, there is a fierce BJP supporter and also Congress supporters. I think it expands our own perspective. I want to give the example of a canonical documentary filmmaker here, Frederick Wiseman. Wiseman has emphasised 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, that it is our responsibility to not misrepresent for the sake of titillating the audience.
So in this film our lens is almost anthropological. In fact, AAP is just a vehicle to explore deeper questions such as the of the citizen’s role in a democracy. Currently, there is actually a global narrative of documentaries on peoples’ movements world wide—a film on the anti-corruption party in Italy (School of Democracy), another one in Columbia (Democracy), and a film on the Egyptian revolution (The Square). Incidentally, two of these films have been crowdfunded and one was nominated for the Oscars.

What brought you both to films? A bit about each of your backgrounds.

Vinay: I passed out of college in 2007 and started working as an assistant director on films right away. I was terrible at academics so I didn’t really have much of an option but to take up the arts. I had won a short film contest while in college so I thought I could do something in this field. I worked on a Bollywood film, on a play, on corporate films. Then I made a short fiction film titled “Raag Sarkari” which went to a few festivals. Then I acted in SoT which more or less validated all of the above.

Khushboo: I dropped out of graduation and then post graduation. In the meantime I started working with Anand Gandhi, and also helped a few friends on their films.

As the AAP is still shaping up as a party, how difficult was it to decide when to stop?

Khushboo: The decision was a combination of several factors. When we started documenting the party in late 2012, we had no idea where we were heading. By the end of 2013 we knew we had a very strong film about the evolution of a nascent political party in India. We had an “election film”. To continue shooting with them while they were in governance would mean that we had to cover them for as long as they were in power, to capture and understand their governance style and ethics. That would be a film on “governance”. We expected them to stay in power for a few years at least and following them for that long a period would mean that a lot of our footage would simply get dated. We think that the material we have with us right now is interesting because it covers a vast leap of events, which is to say, it covers them from being nobody to somebody.
Vinay: Also, we didn’t have any money to continue shooting any further. We approached many Indian funders for money but people are hesitant in investing in documentaries. And at that time no one knew how big this story would get.
Also, the AAP is a shape-shifting beast. It will continue to surprise and upset with equal ease. We have chronicled their first year and their meteoric rise with the resources we had. We now have a documentary, which shows you their process from up-close when they didn’t have the fame that they do today. There are many more people interested and curious about the AAP now and a lot of people are studying and chronicling their journey.


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