Vinay Shukla: ‘While We Watched’ is my angry love letter to journalists

Vinay Shukla's While We Watched is a documentary that shows how Indian TV journalist Ravish Kumar fights to keep independent reporting alive

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The award winning documentary While We Watched, being screened at the 70th Sydney Film Festival is a must-watch for journalists.

When director Vinay Shukla decided to make a unique newsroom thriller, he had no idea that his subject NDTV broadcast journalist Ravish Kumar was a tired hero in his own industry. And that’s where his search started, unravelling a spiralling world of truth and disinformation.

“With Ravish Kumar I found a character who was contemplating if he was still relevant in this world,” Shukla tells Indian Link. ” Yes, he was a tired hero in his own industry — someone who had seen a better time and was now at odds with his own audiences. Also, the news affects me on a very visceral level. I meet friends who have just completely stopped watching the news because of how it scares them these days. I found this to be a worrying phenomenon and decided to take it on – as a storyteller, my job is to reflect on and tell the stories of my time.”

As part of this process, Vinay Shukla shadowed NDTV veteran Ravish Kumar for two years. “Like most things, it took time to come together. We filmed Ravish every day for two years. We covered every space: his home, the newsroom, his office and so on. I spent a lot of time when he was not on air, capturing his unique mood and energy. And at the end of the day, we would review each clip, take notes and dive deep into editing. In this process, we re-discovered our story; many moments that didn’t sink in during the shoot were gleaned and pieced together on the edit table.”

A still from the documentary ‘While We Watched’

The documentary shows how Indian TV journalist Ravish Kumar fights to keep independent reporting alive in the age of misinformation.

How would Shukla himself define journalism in today’s world, where people rely on social media for their news source?

“Journalism is definitely going through a credibility crisis right now – people don’t look up to/respect journalists the way they did a couple of decades ago. And while there have certainly been bad players within journalism, it’s also true that there has been a huge disinformation campaign against journalists over the last decade which has eroded people’s faith in journalism itself. That’s a major contributing factor to why people prefer to crowdsource their news from social media instead of going to traditional outlets. But as we are slowly discovering, social media companies themselves are now failing the people on several fronts. If we are to move forward, we need to understand and build better journalism.”

Though While We Watched was one of the first documentaries to be announced for the Sydney Film Festival, and has won awards at international film festivals, our film loving home country India still shies away when it comes to documentaries.

“Documentary films have long spoken in a language that India’s film-loving audience doesn’t understand, i.e. they are edited and shot in a manner that the film consuming audiences don’t particularly like. Nor does this language cover anything that they really care about. So whatever our documentary films were saying, the audiences didn’t feel the urgency of absorbing that message. Currently, the world is talking about the Indian Documentary Wave: a spate of younger filmmakers who are taking risks, being ambitious with their stories, perfecting their craft and delivering fantastic films. It’s a really exciting time!” declares Vinay Shukla.

“This film is my angry love letter to journalists. Journalism around the world, and particularly in India today, is an unpopular and dangerous job – especially for those who deal with contentious topics. The idea is to humanize the profession again; to draw the curtain back on the deeply vulnerable people that they actually are.”

If we want our journalism to get better, then we’ll have to do something about it. The film is a 94-minute journey that pushes you to feel the despair, restlessness and forlornness its subjects go through every day. The experience is universal – we’ve seen firsthand how networks of disinformation wreak havoc in many countries.

This documentary invites people to think critically about what they’re consuming, and have a nuanced conversation about it.

You can watch the documentary on Sunday 11 June. Check here for details.

Read more: Indian films at Sydney Film Festival 2023

Neeru Saluja
Neeru Saluja
Neeru Saluja is a freelance films and arts writer with 20 years of experience. Specialising in Bollywood celebrity interviews, she has also covered music concerts, comedy shows, plays and interviewed artists for the Sydney Film festival, the Indian Film festival in Melbourne, WOMADelaide, AACTA and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

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