While We Watched: Gripping film about Ravish Kumar presents a chilling view of India’s broadcast media

This film, centred on one brave journalist railing against populist fervour, addresses universal problems

While We Watched
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Director: Vinay Shukla
Cert: 15A
Starring: Ravish Kumar
Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins

Vinay Shukla’s gripping film about Ravish Kumar, a respected Indian TV journalist, presents a chilling vista of that nation’s broadcast media. It must necessarily be a snapshot for those of us living elsewhere. But the competitors shown in While We Watched make mainstream right-wing media in the United States seem like CBBC Newsround.

The anchors, breathlessly supportive of prime minister Narendra Modi, are in constant search of those they deem “anti-nationalists”. That term appears to cover anyone even vaguely at odds with the regime. Following a terrorist attack on Kashmir, the rhetoric becomes more savage still. “For every drop of Indian blood, 100 drops of Pakistani blood!” one broadcaster spits vehemently.

Meanwhile, Kumar, a thoughtful man now accompanied by bodyguards, attempts to maintain a degree of sanity on the channel NDTV. Emphasising the pressures the medium is under, While We Watched punctuates the action with leaving parties – yet another chocolate cake – for those who have had enough. The contrast between Kumar’s activities and those of his rivals presses home one difficulty facing media in the outrage era. It is impossible to tear your eyes or ears away from the bubbling phlegm on the populist channels. Though exponentially more dangerous, it has the macabre appeal of American wrestling. What journalists such as Kumar do is quieter, more rigorous, less heated. There is no attempt to present news as raw-meat entertainment.

The film shows Kumar encountering people who want him dead and as many people who still appreciate efforts to tell the truth. He eventually receives a prestigious journalism prize. “When they come for your votes, tell them to stop boycotting my show,” he drily says of the right-wing politicians. The most powerful sequence comes when, during a debate at a college, he politely chastises one contributor for slavishly – perhaps fearfully – putting the patriotic line. The applause is enormous.


You couldn’t call While We Watched a hopeful film. The sense throughout is of responsible journalism under assault from carnival hucksters. But it does confirm a lingering desire for responsible reporting among a nugget of the population. The problems addressed here are universal.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist