While We Watched
Some in Britain lie awake at night, seething at a perceived lack of free speech in the nation’s landscape. Little do they consider, perhaps, how much more severe this issue is in other parts of the world.
India, 2019: a fraught pre-election landscape sees previously elected prime minister and Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi looking to secure another term in office on behalf of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The nationalist, right-leaning media, who back Modi and dominate the airwaves, run riot with disdain towards India’s Muslim population as well as neighbouring Pakistan. How can a neutral, balanced and independent news and broadcasting corporation function in such a landscape?
While We Watched, a feature-length documentary from director Vinay Shukla, follows renowned journalist and presenter Ravish Kumar and the team that surrounds him in their quest to present as accurate a representation of Indian current affairs as possible. In doing so, they – and particularly Kumar himself – attract a lot of unwanted attention, sometimes amounting to outright hatred and threats. The documentary excellently portrays the extreme tension and cost to the individuals and the organisation as they continue to pursue their goal. An irresistible empathy is drawn from the viewer, who agonises alongside them over whether to persevere in the face of a growing danger, or give up and go home for the safety of themselves and their families.
Kumar is very likeable and makes a wonderful case for himself, but he is also breaking, worn down by the challenge he is facing and the uphill struggle ahead. This deeply disturbing, absolute reality is what is so jarring and effective about While We Watched, and it is what makes it an engaging piece for anyone, even if they don’t initially feel they can relate to or take particular interest in the specific subject matter. One or two moments feel a touch staged at points but, besides these, there is an authenticity to the struggle at the heart this piece. The depth of the difficulties they face is conveyed with poise and without compromise. While We Watched is a harrowing but beautifully genuine watch.
While We Watched is released in select cinemas on 14th July 2023.
Watch the trailer for While We Watched here: