Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022

Oscar-nominated documentary shows only a part of our work: Editor of Khabar Lahariya

Khabar Lahariya, the rural media organization which inspired the Oscar-nominated documentary "Writing with fire,” says the film portrayed the newspaper "inaccurately" by insinuating that it only focuses on reporting on issues surrounding "one political party.” Directed by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, “Writing With Fire” will be vying in the Best Documentary Feature category at the 94th Academy Awards, held on Monday.

Indian documentary Writing With Fire marks its entry to Oscars 2022 shortlist.

The film chronicles the rise of Khabar Lahariya, which is considered India's only newspaper to be run by Dalit women. It follows the ambitious team of women, led by their chief reporter Meera, as they switch from print to digital to stay relevant.

Kavita Bundelkhandi, the editor of Khabar Lahariya, said, "The documentary portrays our work inaccurately because it shows only a part of what we do and that ours is only about one political party." She, however, did not name the political party that she was referring to.

"We are very proud that such a documentary on our organization has been made, but we are sad that they have only shown a part of what we do. At Khabar Lahariya, we are focused on doing ground-level stories often neglected or overlooked by big media organizations," she added. 

Founded over two decades ago, Khabar Lahariya does extensive coverage in districts of the Bundelkhand region, spanning over the southern part of Uttar Pradesh and Northern part of Madhya Pradesh, informed Kavita. She claimed that the content and stories done by the newspaper's team are read and accessed by lakhs of viewers on various online platforms. The editor said that the documentary makers had covered their work over five years since 2017.

Kavita believes that it is essential for a storyteller to tell all parts of a story, or it can change the entire meaning. "One can change the entire essence if it is not told as a whole. This has happened with us in the documentary," she added. When asked whether she has reached out to the documentary makers about her complaint, Kavita said she had intimated them via a formal communication.

Earlier this week, Khabar Lahariya had said that the documentary captures just a part of their story, "and part stories have a way of distorting the whole sometimes.". "In 20 years, we have reported on many parties in Uttar Pradesh that have said they will stand for the rights of the poor, the marginalized, and we have shown the mirror to all of them when they don't do what they have said..." the statement read.

Kavita said the newspaper's all-women team looks after all aspects of news coverage, from reporting to editing. "When we started, we only had women from Dalit and backward communities, but now our team comes from all social backgrounds, and we focus on reporting issues related directly to people living in rural pockets," said Kavita, adding "The documentary made on us excellent in several ways, but the makers have failed to portray our work truly."

In their response, the documentary's makers had released a statement to a newspaper, saying that though Khabar Lahariya's stand was "deeply disappointing," they "remain committed supporters of their mission, wor,k and onward journey." "Khabar Lahariya has a rich legacy as a grassroots media organization. Yet a film must take a focus to tell a story of one aspect or another of the whole picture.

"We respect that this may not be the film they would have made about themselves, but we stand by this portrayal of Khabar Lahariya, which focuses on the range of the important work — and their hopes, fears, vulnerabilities,s, and dreams.… Our film speaks to their power and agency both as women and as journalists," the filmmakers had said.