Oscar-Nominated 'Writing With Fire' Eclipses Our Journalism: Khabar Lahariya
The film 'Writing With Fire' is about the women-led media collective Khabar Lahariya running in rural India.
The winners for the 94th Academy Awards will be announced on March 27 where an Indian documentary 'Writing With Fire' has a chance of winning the Best Documentary Feature. The documentary is about women-led media collective called Khabar Lahariya. However, days before the final results, the media organisation has come out with a strong statement alleging that the film has 'distorted' the whole story.
"It is a story which captures a part of ours, and part stories have a way of distorting the whole sometimes," Khabar Lahariya said in a statement on the website on Monday.
Khabar Lahariya started as a chain of local language newspapers in rural India 20 years ago and with the advent of digital technology in media, it expanded to online as well. It now has 544k YouTube subscribers and an average of 10 million views every month.
"The film is a moving and powerful document, but its presentation of Khabar Lahariya as an organisation with a particular and consuming focus of reporting on one party and the mobilisation around this, is inaccurate," the statement read.
While the documentary, Writing With Fire, talks about Khabar Lahariya as an initiative run by Dalit women, the media collective said that while they are led by Dalit women, they also include Muslim, OBC and upper-caste women. "...all showing what a truly diverse media organization can look like," it said.
Kahabar Lahariya is a weekly rural newspaper written, edited, illustrated, produced and marketed by a group of women - most of them from marginalised Dalit, Kol and Muslim communities - in Chitrakoot and Banda districts of Uttar Pradesh in north India. The publication began in May 2002 in Chitrakoot and a second edition was launched in the adjoining Banda district in October 2006.
In the statement about the Oscar-nominated documentary, Khabar Lahariya said the film 'eclipses' their work and 'the kind of local journalism' that has set them apart from mainstream media.
"In our 20 years of practising independent journalism, it has been a foundational value to be deliberate about how and who we include in the frame or story, about corroboration, about multiple perspectives. These values are not reflected in the version of ourselves we see in the film," they said in the statement.
The uncertain journey and without knowing what next the moment would bring in an ever-changing media environment amid a shift from print to online is how Khabar Lahariya described their "roller coaster journey" of two decades of running a newspaper from rural India.
"20 years of not knowing what the next year would bring: whether we would shut down and send everybody home because newspapers all over the world were shutting down and sending all their reporters home; or because we were not seen to be viable, or couldn't show 'tangible' impact that a funder could see; or whether we would open new editions, because local news in the local language was a rare and hot commodity, and rural women make such good journalists. 20 years of arguing down resistant family members of our reporters – who couldn't make up their mind if a paycheck or a hold over 'their' women was more important to them."
The film Writing With Fire has been made by two independent filmmakers, Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas. It attempts to capture the journey of women in rural Uttar Pradesh trying to make a mark in the male-dominated sphere of journalism in the patriarchal society.
Ghosh and Thomas approached Khabar Lahariya and start filming them back in 2016 when they were mulling the decision to expand to digital media.
Earlier, in an interview with the Outlook, Ghosh said that despite criticism from their male peers for the digital shift, 'they became a digital news force to reckon with'.
The film had its world premier at Sundance and has been screened at over 100 festivals in 2021. It has won 30 international awards. and has truly been embraced by a global audience. "For too long, we've had Western narratives about India that focus on extractive storytelling," Ghosh had said in an interview with the Outlook.
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