‘Everyone loves a good fight’ – not many would dispute that fact in an Indian context, especially if it has got to do with a discussion surrounding politics, films or cricket. We love it when a fight goes public, gets ugly and relish the sheer drama it invites into our lives. Not much needs to be said about our penchant for melodrama either – we crib about it but it’s a guilty pleasure we don’t admit to openly. Munish Raizada, the Chicago-based medico-cum-filmmaker, understands the fact well through Transparency: Pardarshita, a documentary series where he chronicles the story of the Aam Aadmi Party and how it has made a mockery of those very idealistic principles it was built on.
The timing of its release could be debatable, the filmmaking standards may not be impeccable – but the entertainment value it provides is unquestionable either. It’s easy to dismiss this as an attempt to malign the Aam Aadmi Party but it’s a valuable document that presents the toxic relationship between Indian politics, the greed for power and money while not shying away from facts. The insider’s account of Arvind Kejriwal, the person takes stock of the Gandhian ideals that reportedly shaped him (but never showed in his actions) and gets to the core of his roots, his decisions, his public and personal behaviour over a seven-episode, six-hour-long series.
Through the documentary, we keep wondering why Prakash Jha hasn’t made a film based on Arvind Kejriwal yet (no, the half-baked film loosely based on Anna Hazare, Satyagraha doesn’t count). The perspectives and the heartburn of the various figures that the filmmaker interviews through the documentary are strikingly specific. The opinions are varied - Arvind Kejriwal’s friends during the early days of his NGO Parivartan, long-time associates of AAP, many party workers who had quit their well-paying jobs driven by the idea to usher in a positive change in the political sphere, tall figures like Anna Hazare, Swami Agnivesh, among many featured in this effort.
Those who find space in the documentary use it more as a medium to convey their disappointment and how has Arvind Kejriwal permanently destroyed the idea of ‘corruption-free, transparent politics’ and ‘sincere protest’ to an entire generation. “Any person who’s truly willing to be a changemaker and challenges the status quo in the future needs to first prove that he’s not another Kejriwal,” a former party member goes onto express his concern. The dubious foundation to the party, the disbanding with Anna Hazare followed by a slew of exits of its key members over the years, issues with local governance to its failed promises - the documentary is an incisive take on the man and his party from every possible dimension.
The episodes are rivetingly edited after the third episode – Kumar Vishwas, the articulate Shazia Ilmi, the precise Gul Panag, Yogendra Yadav, the earnest Prahlad Pandey are a delight to hear with their no-non sense talk. The lack of understanding of the public mandate in reference to the Punjab elections in 2013, the absence of transparency in the donor list, the controversial sacking of party members in the Kapashera meeting and Kapil Mishra’s removal from the cabinet – are among the key issues that the documentary addresses. The documentary is intriguing as long it deals with the internal crisis within the party – the insights are fresh and the access of the filmmaker to AAP’s former members, his conversational abilities are of great help.
The episode that explores the idea of self-governance is the series’ biggest takeaway – the stories of Popat Rao Pawar from Ahmednagar, the idea of a Panchayat Academy, community-based living in Kuthumbakam in Chennai are of great inspirational value. The focus on Anna Hazare’s ideals in the documentary and why he’s repeatedly stayed away from seeking power is welcoming too. The attempt to dissect Kejriwal psychologically is interesting as an idea and deserved more screen-time than it ends up getting.
The structure of the documentary, however, is messy. Munish Raizada in several portions tries to divert the focus of the documentary towards his personal struggle – how he ignored his family for the cause of AAP and its founding principles. The second episode sticks out like a sore thumb – the filmmaker’s effort to discuss Indian heritage and culture feels so out-of-context. His repeated efforts to meet Arvind Kejriwal are indulgent and create drama that adds little value to the narrative otherwise. The ending of the narrative is repetitive about its focus on the absence of transparency in the functioning of the party and its donations. The abruptly concluded episode doesn’t create the impact that the documentary desires to.
Transparency: Paradarshita may have wanted to elaborate more about the governance dimension to Kejriwal though – the absence of any discussions on the ‘odd-even scheme’, the disturbing pollution levels in the capital (it’s surprising how the documentary limits itself to a segment on the Yamuna alone), the statehood issue are rather surprising. While the show is bound to invite divided opinions from Delhites and the politically-aware lot in India, for the others, the documentary is a racy thriller that’s like an eye-opener on the universality of power-hungry politics. Arvind Kejriwal may want to watch this show with a pinch of salt and make time for self-introspection possibly?