While We Watched (2022)

A brave broadcast journalist warns of widespread nationalistic propaganda on television news in this powerful indictment of the sorry state of media and hate politics in India.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,520

Dir. Vinay Shukla
2022 | UK/India | Documentary | 92 min | 1.85:1 | Hindi & English
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for mature themes

Plot: How independent news reporting in India is increasingly under threat by budgetary cuts and especially, extremists leveraging alternative platforms to spread misinformation.
Awards: Won Amplify Voices Award (Toronto)
International Sales: Lono World

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Journalism; Media & Politics; Truth & Ethics
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Screener
Spoilers: No

If you are into media and politics, Vinay Shukla’s new sophomore documentary ought to be on your radar.  While We Watched, which would surely stir controversy in India, should do well to bask in it. 

World premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival where it won an award, the film is a powerful indictment of the sorry state of media and politics in India, where nationalism has been conflated with religious fundamentalism. 

Many news anchors blatantly spew hate on national television, labelling anyone who criticises India as an ‘anti-nationalist’—and that they should be hunted down and banished. 

Ravish Kumar, the film’s ‘protagonist’, is one such person who has been accused of being an anti-nationalist after questioning the erosion of values such as truth and ethics in news reporting. 

Even with threats to his life, he soldiers on bravely as a broadcast journalist bound to his professional integrity and the spirit of democracy, refusing to walk down the same dastardly path his compatriots had succumbed to. 

“Our job is to ask the most difficult questions to those in power.”

Despite being set in the context of India, Shukla’s work is universal—where fake news and hate speech thrive, the film will remain continually relevant. 

While We Watched very much threads in the footsteps of such films as the Maria Ressa documentary, A Thousand Cuts (2020), adopting a more personal approach to highlighting the contributions of and challenges faced by a featured subject who is a beacon of hope for political accountability. 

Kumar in While We Watched strikes me as an intelligent man of heightened consciousness—even as the news station where he works begins its slow death due to budget cuts and journalists leaving, he remains a constant presence both in front and behind the camera. 

Like the Oscar-nominated Writing with Fire (2021), which deals with independent female reporters breaking patriarchal traditions, While We Watched continues the trend of socially and politically engaged Indian filmmakers hoping to use cinema as a medium to shed light on the myriad of problems that plague their beloved country.

Grade: A-

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