Writing with Fire spotlights Khabar Lahariya, India’s all-female newsroom
Khabar Lahariya, a newsroom of female journalists from India’s Dalit community, has a moment at the Oscars thanks to the documentary Write with fire.
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Oscars and winner of the People’s Choice Award and Special Jury Prize at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, the documentary shines a light on the women journalists of Khabar Lahariya as it goes from a print-only newspaper to a hybrid print newspaper and digital platform reporting on marginalized communities and dark media villages in India.
Sushmit Ghosh, who co-directed write with fire with his companion Rintu Thomas, appeared in a recent episode of the Factual America podcast, which you can listen to above, on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or here:
“write with fire is the story of Khabar Lahariya, which literally translates to “waves of information”, which is a newsroom run entirely by women, and mostly women from the Dalit community. And we caught them at a time when they were moving from 14 years of print to digital. And we were drawn to the story basically because we were curious to see how they were going to make that transition, basically because they were operating in an area notorious for its notorious levels of violence against the Dalit community, against women,” Ghosh said. , who also served as a producer, editor and director of photography.
“Just being a female Dalit journalist in these parts of India operating in dark media spaces was a story just waiting to be told. And the film basically follows three journalists in the newsroom, and Meera [Devi], who is the central protagonist of the film, and two journalists whom she is essentially the mentor. And over the five years that we’ve been editing this film, we see them not only grow in their personal lives, but also in their professional lives, we see the growth of Khabar Lahariya as essentially a force in the creative space of information in India. . And we also see India in an interesting way in transition to a democracy. So it tells a lot of stories in an interconnected way.
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Ghosh also explained how Khabar Lahariya helps combat the lingering effects of India’s caste system, which has existed for thousands of years.
“According to the Hindu scriptures, basically humans can be divided into four key castes, and it’s kind of like a pyramid hierarchy. And each of these four castes has several sub-castes. And the Dalit community is considered, in quotes, so impure that it has always been kept out of the caste system, and has basically borne the brunt, or the inheritance, or basically the violence of what it means to ‘being outsiders to the caste system,’ Ghosh said.
“As India gained independence, caste-based practices were outlawed by the Constitution. But sometimes it is difficult to get rid of a social structure that has existed for nearly 3,000 years. And so, if you are from the dalit community, you would be someone who has always been marginalized historically, always oppressed, would not necessarily have access to the resources that most other Indians would have, be it education or health care. And you see a lot of that in the film, as these reporters go to these dark media villages, spaces that aren’t covered by the mainstream, where people don’t have access to clean water, or toilets, health facilities, schools, electricity, and the work that these women do is basically to ensure equity and justice for people across the spectrum in the country.
Here are the timestamps of the Factual America interview:
00:00 – Excerpt from Writing with Fire, showing Meera on a reporting assignment.
02:40 – How the filmmakers reacted to the Oscars shortlist.
04:30 – What the film is about.
06:20 – The context of the Dalit community and its position in India.
13:34 – What it’s like for the film’s protagonist Meera to live the life of a journalist.
5:15 p.m. – Who are the other two main subjects of the film.
22:18 – Second clip: Meera teaches Shyamkali how to use a smartphone for her work.
24:35 – Where writing with fire can be seen.
29:31 – If Sushmit ever felt he and Rintu were in danger during filming.
33:10 – Political changes that occurred during the four years of filming.
36:43 – How Sushmit and Rintu got the idea to make this movie.
41:25 – Reception of the film on the festival circuit and how it inspired people to take action.
47:30 – What’s next for Sushmit and Rintu.
Factual America uses documentary cinema to examine the American experience as well as universal topics that affect all Americans. Guests include Oscar, Emmy and Grammy award-winning filmmakers and producers, their subjects, as well as experts on the American experience. We discuss true crimes, music, burning social and political topics, history and the arts with the creators of the latest and upcoming documentary films in theaters and on the most popular digital platforms. This podcast is produced by Alamo Pictures, a London and Austin-based production company that makes documentaries about the United States from a European perspective for international audiences.
Main image: Image from Writing With Fire, courtesy of Factual America