Khabar Lahariya (literally, “News Waves”) is a rare beacon of hope for journalism in the country – in a landscape otherwise cluttered with jingoism, populist propaganda, bigotry, sensationalism, disinformation and cacophony – in that it speaks truth to power with courage, doesn’t shy away from topics which are inconvenient to the establishment, and covers unsavoury ground realities. But it’s even more than that, as it’s run by rural women from disadvantaged and marginalized communities – necessitating them to operate in an environment dominated by entrenched patriarchy, caste violence and religious discrimination, while also battling economic and domestic impediments – thus imbuing their work with stirring social and feminist contexts. Co-directed by Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas, Writing with Fire is a terrific documentary on this incredible newspaper, and, in turn, a disarmingly powerful work of reportage laced with grit, socio-political conviction and understated eloquence. At its centre-stage were two remarkable Dalit women – Meera, the group’s seasoned Chief Reporter who takes charge of politically volatile stories while also providing mentorship to those needing guidance, and Sunita, a gutsy and self-assured young reporter who’s started covering difficult topics – who are covering such issues as murder of union leaders and activists by the coal mafia, apathy shown by the police towards an impoverished Dalit woman who’s faced sexual violence, and the obnoxious rise of muscular nationalism and cow vigilantism at the backdrop of the ominous 2017 state elections in the violent, chauvinistic and polarized quagmire that Uttar Pradesh represents. Filmed in spare, grainy and compelling visuals, these serious subjects were deftly juxtaposed with the bonding of these heroic comrades including their exuberant trip to Kashmir, their valiant attempts at going digital, and their incredible personal conviction.
Directors: Sushmit Ghosh & Rintu Thomas