While we watched a trauma pill

“While We Watched” is a 90-minute trauma pill says its director Vinay Shukla

The documentary on Ramon Magsaysay award-winning journalist Ravish Kumar “While we watched” is being fairly widely watched globally and the response almost universally is that it is very well made. Made by its director in a starkly realistic style, for journalism students it is also interesting for the insights it throws up on the state of Indian journalism today.

Recently in the teaser of an interview of  Shukla with Newslaundry’s Manisha Pande (the full version is available behind a paywall), he spoke about  Ravish’s way of “doing” Journalism, which he also thinks Is the correct way.  ”A journalist should not only question the ruling government but should also question their audience or the citizens of the country and make them aware of what is actually going on around them”

He talked about how easy it was to shoot some parts, especially those within the NDTV India newsroom where Ravish was working at the time. The documentary took two years of shooting :every single day”, like reality television, but even worse, because Ravish Kumar and his family are not stars. But the main subject understood television, as did NDTV staff, and these were the people to whom Shukla says he did not have to explain anything..

There are quite a few scenes of “cake cutting” which have been shown very symbolically, whenever someone from NDTV used to resign, everyone gathered, cut a cake and applauded.  But only Ravish could not smile even if he wanted to, because he could see only two well where everything was headed. And the newsroom did empty out as its people left one by one, unable to take the constant pressure hanging over them. We all know the story too well,

At one point in the interview with Manisha, Shukla declares,  “This film is like Titanic but it’s not about Jack and Rose; it is about the people who decided to play their violin as the ship sank”. He also expressed concern for future entrants to the profession.  “What systems are we building, for young journalists who are far better even than Ravish, to come forward and thrive. What is the system that we have for more women or marginalised communities to come and thrive in this career. We have not taken care of our Journalists”.

He also spoke about those mainstream TV news channels that don’t bother to sensitize and train their journalists, for example, in pandemic reporting. “We are not safeguarding our Journalists but we also want them to be superheroes. Young journalists don’t have better information within proper frameworks. There’s no safety net within and outside their organisation”, said, Vinay Shukla.

It took them almost five years to bring this documentary to the world including two years of  continuously shooting Ravish every single day. It is when you realize the huge feat of cutting, selecting, and finally putting thousands of hours into the final film, that you begin to get a glimpse of what Shukla has achieved.

He calls his final product “90 minutes of mental trauma pills. It is not a happy film but it must be seen.

Sidhant Shekhar

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