Vinay Shukla (AN INSIGNIFICANT MAN) returns to our screens with the deeply depressing, profoundly moving, and sadly globally relevant documentary, WHILE WE WATCHED.
This is a film about the death of independent journalism in Narendra Modi's India, told by focussing on the NDTV anchorman Ravish Kumar. Kumar stands for an idea of India that has been under attack for years now. One of an independent judiciary and media holding politicians and criminals to account. An India that embraces its diversity and does not confuse confidence with nationalist arrogance.
Over the film's running time we see Kumar struggle to speak truth to power as his journalists and producers are laid off or leave for other positions, frustrated and underpaid and uncertain for their future. Kumar is subject to a torrent of abuse and violent hatred. The state takes to blocking the signal of his transmissions. The owners of the channel are arrested and subjected to lawsuits accusing them of being financially fraudulent. We leave Kumar after yet another sweeping Modi electoral victory, depressed, frustrated, considering his future, nervous at the way in which young journalists look to him for inspiration and courage, knowing he will have to make a choice between journalism and keeping his job.
The documentary crew filmed Kumar between 2018 and 2020, and we know that after that the state pressure on NDTV increased, banks withdrew credit, advertisers ran, and its owners finally just selling out to a Modi crony billionaire, Guatam Adani. Ravish Kumar resigned shortly thereafter and now broadcasts from YouTube. He, and others like him, have thus been deplatformed. The question is whether they can keep some kind of influence via social media. I fear not.
For anyone interested in contemporary India, this film is essential viewing. That said, given the global trends toward nationalism, populism, an increasingly shrill and partisan media, and the increasing violence toward journalists, I would argue it is essential viewing for any citizen of any country.
WHILE WE WATCHED has a running time of 94 minutes. It played Toronto 2022 and was released in the UK last month.