Khabar Lahariya, the rural, women-led media house and subject of the Oscar-nominated Indian documentary Writing with Fire, which recently called out the film’s inaccurate representation of them, says their issues were conveyed to the makers right after watching the pitch trailer and also after the first cut of the film, but no changes were made.
In an e-mail conversation with Silverscreen India, the team of Khabar Lahariya opened up about their recent statement and their issues with the documentary.
“We felt it was important for us to give our perspective on how the organisation has been portrayed in the film, especially since Khabar Lahariya has had a 20-year-long journey and the film captures only a small part of that journey.”
Talking about how they have been misrepresented in the film, the media house said, “After watching the film, one emerging presumption is that Khabar Lahariya comprises of only Dalit women, which is not accurate. It is a Dalit-led team, but also includes Muslim, OBC, and upper-caste women.”
They further said, “The documentary is the filmmakers’ perspective, but the film’s portrayal of our local journalism eclipses our work over the years. And it’s not an accurate representation of our unbiased-feminist reporting, which sets us apart from the clouds of fake news on social media, and even from other mainstream media – which tends to be highly polarized.”
The organisation notes that the filmmaking process was based on “mutual trust,” but the issues raised by their leadership team immediately after watching the pitch trailer in 2016 and the first cut in 2020 were both ignored. “Over the course of filming, the filmmakers formed a bond with the protagonists and the KL team and we always thought our views would be factored in and given due consideration when the final product was ready.”
The team adds that they saw the completed film only in February 2022.
“As the distribution and impact of the film have grown, and it affects our reputation and our safety as an organisation and as journalists, we thought it was essential to clarify our position: that it is a powerful narration, but it’s not our whole story.”
Khabar Lahariya also said that they “have suggested certain edits in the film; for example, blurring the faces of rape survivors.”
In their earlier statement, the organisation had critiqued the film, which won two awards at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, for revealing the identities of survivors of rape and assault, which they had worked to always safeguard.
With the 94th edition of the Oscars scheduled to be held on Monday, the media house says it will keep concentrating on its work.
Silverscreen India has reached out to one of the directors of the film, Sushmit Ghosh, for a comment but is yet to receive a response.
(With inputs from Shrija Ganguly)