Repeatedly in the documentary “Writing With Fire” we see lone female reporters among a crowd of men – cops, minors, political activists – asking soft but firm questions. The courage of women in the face of palpable hostility is impressive, and it becomes even more so when you learn that they are in Uttar Pradesh, an Indian province known for its crimes against women, and that they are Dalits, or members of the so-called untouchable caste.
They are reporters from Khabar Lahariya, the only Indian newspaper run by women. In “Writing With Fire,” directors Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh follow the media’s pivot to digital coverage as the 2019 general election looms. Many women have never used smartphones or cameras, and for much of the movie. , reporters train each other and exchange feedback in encouraging displays of sisterly solidarity.
Scenes from the journalists’ family life highlight how insignificant these technical challenges seem compared to national challenges. Meera, a seasoned and enduring journalist, married at 14 and earned three degrees while raising her children. fiery Suneeta cannot get married because her parents cannot afford the dowry demanded by men that would allow her to work.
But Thomas and Ghosh focus on arcs of resistance rather than repression, chronicling how, as Khabar Lahariya’s YouTube channel quickly gains followers, his stories are getting real results: neglected town receives medical treatment; a rapist is being prosecuted. If the film’s lively narration sometimes presents these victories as too easily won, it is a necessary correction to the skepticism that women still face (“They are doomed to failure”, taunts Meera’s husband).
And at a time when the profession faces growing dangers in India, the film’s faith in the powers of grassroots journalism is nothing short of galvanizing.
Write with fire
Unclassified. In Hindi, with subtitles. Duration: 1 hour 32 minutes. In theaters.