At the beginning of Vinay Shukla’s documentary, While We Watched, the subject, veteran Indian news anchor Ravish Kumar, stands in a partially demolished building and says, “I’m all alone. Who do you listen to when?”
It is an existential crisis for one of India’s few prominent journalists who has undauntedly spoken the truth to those in power amid declining ratings, death threats and government hostility to press freedom. Indeed, what do journalists who are dedicated to being the voice of the people do when they seem to be talking only about themselves?
“While We Watched” follows Kumar working for influential cable station NDTV from 2018 to 2021 (one year before it was taken over in a hostile takeover by a billionaire). . This documentary is more of a sobering evocation than a moving narrative. The camera stays close to Mr. Kumar’s face. Kumar and his underfunded team seek to reaffirm democratic ideals amid a rhetoric storm that demonizes dissent and fuels a rival media mob that fuels Islamophobia. . The film unfolds like an episode of Aaron Sorkin’s “Newsroom,” with snappy editing that draws us into the high-stakes, low-paying realm of independent news.
Kumar is the mouthpiece of reason for many Indians. It’s disturbing to see him so vulnerable, but that makes his tenacity all the more impressive. Shukla is a little too preoccupied with his subject matter, and his political and bureaucratic details fade away into a somewhat drab and stylized man-versus-world narrative. But Kumar’s humility and eloquence ensure that the film never falls into hagiography, remaining instead as a wailing and battle-roar.
while we are watching
Unrated. English and Hindi with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. at the theater.