India Inked: History’s Biggest Election review — An important documentary overloaded with data
India Inked: History’s Biggest Election is the record of an important milestone of the country’s history and a celebration of India’s passionate spirit of democracy.
Directed by Robin Roy, India Inked: History’s Biggest Election is a documentary of the factual-entertainment genre, which goes behind the scenes of the 2019 Indian election, focusing on the many people and processes involved in putting together the world’s largest election. It will be available in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. Conceptually, the film can be described as an exercise in going beyond the politics – which is already heavily covered by news channels – to tell the many human stories of the organisers and voters who make up the biggest logistical event of the country.
The film opens with an impressive amount of data and statistics, grounding it in a tone of heavy, thorough research, drawing the viewer in right from the start. As the trailer boasts, the election meant the coming together of 10 lakh polling stations, 20 lakh security personnel, 1.10 crore polling officials and 91 crore voters.
Made in association with the Election Commission of India, the film details the full election process, starting with the voter outreach efforts of the Election Commission through its Systematic Voters' Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) program which the film dubs ‘the great national festival’. It goes on to highlight the monitoring and security work, the voting on the day, counting, and the declaration, being a thorough peak into the full election process, detailing the challenges people face and the patriotism that inspires them through these hurdles.
“India’s General Election 2019 was the largest democratic exercise in history, with staggering statistics and daunting logistic needs. It is an example for the rest of the world in how to conduct free and fair polls. The Election Commission’s teams, both permanent and those requisitioned for the specific purpose of conducting and overseeing the elections, have been exemplary in their service to the nation and to the fundamentals of democracy, as enshrined in India’s constitution,” says Sunil Arora, Chief Election Commissioner of India.
India Inked uses a few individual narratives, of Commission personnel and voters, to drive home the emotional value of the elections and the many ‘unsung heroes’ who make the election process possible. The film’s crew – in what was their biggest challenge – follows personnel as they set up polling stations in two remote constituencies: the Wayanad district deep in the forests of Kerala and a constituency amidst the Himalayas, which demands an eight-hour trek to reach, where a 108-year-old lady is waiting to cast her vote. Each personnel is encouraged to scale these terrains because of the sheer passion for the democracy they inhabit.
Besides the personnel, the film also weaves the narratives of individual voters from varying backgrounds, from the privileged urban young person to the man discriminated against every day because of his work, and the proud person whom the election commission finally recognises as the ‘third gender’. The film is a testament to the inclusivity that the commission has aimed at ensuring. With the ‘inked finger’ of each individual, it communicates the feeling of empowerment each individual feels and celebrates their reinforced faith in democracy.
Shot using impressive overhead shots and with time-lapses of the masses aplenty, the film does an effective job of driving home the sheer vastness of such an event. With its aim of being a tribute to the people behind the scenes, it is focused and streamlined, outlining the workflow processes and planning that such an event demands. It effectively does its job of documenting what went behind the largest election with alacrity, leaving many viewers at yesterday’s screening in Mumbai with a sense of pride about their Indianness.
It is, however, dealing with a large subject and while it succinctly covers the long and arduous election process in the span of an hour, leaving the viewer much better informed, the treatment of these facts feels hurried, and the narrative fails to invoke sufficient emotional connect with any of the stories or people. While rounded in its representation, the film certainly feels rushed, like a muddle of too many narratives vying for one’s attention. It fails to highlight any downsides or negative impact, painting a rosy, patriotic picture instead of one that is honestly well-rounded. It is also in large part communicated through voice-over, and the consistently emphatic tone gets repetitive, losing one’s attention as every new sentence has the resounding ring of being a challenge to be overcome.
Despite its hurried pace, India Inked is still a documentary worth watching, with plenty of insight and information. It focuses on the type of content that networks would traditionally have hesitated in making, and Avinash Kaul, MD A+E Networks TV18 and CEO of Network18, in a discussion after the screening, credits the possibility of such a project to the new subscription business model that allows for more experimental storytelling because of the visibility of interested audiences. "If anything is incredible India, then this is what it is," adds Kaul during the discussion. India Inked: History’s Biggest Election is the record of an important milestone of the country’s history and a celebration of India’s passionate spirit of democracy.
India Inked: History’s Biggest Election will premiere today, 7 August, at 9 pm on History TV18.
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