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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
In 2002, a group of women in Uttar Pradesh formed a newspaper. They called it Khabar Lahariya (translated as "Waves of News"). The women do on-the-ground reporting of breaking news, all filmed on their cell phone cameras, as well as painstaking (and often dangerous) gumshoe investigations on the issues affecting their community: unsafe living and working conditions, political corruption, the epidemic of rape and violence, particularly against the Dalit population. These reporters are all Dalit women, a group considered so "untouchable" they aren't even included in the caste system. Writing with Fire, Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh’s documentary debut, follows these brave reporters as they work their beats.
At the center of Writing with Fire is Meera, chief reporter of Khabar Lahariya, who not only tracks down stories and reports on them, but oversees the newspaper's pivot to digital, and mentors younger journalists (many of whom have no journalism experience). Two other women on the newspaper staff, Suneeta and Shyamkali, are also figures in the narrative: Suneeta focuses primarily on illegal mining, and is fearless, interviewing huge groups of miners who not only don't want to talk to her, but leer at her, try to touch her.
Thomas and Ghosh’s approach is personal and intimate. When the women talk to the camera, there's a sense of familiarity and openness there, suggesting how deeply the filmmakers have embedded themselves in their subjects' lives. The women state their reality in matter-of-fact tones, and then trudge back out into the hostile world to do their jobs, barging their way into rooms where they are not wanted. Writing with Fire is a powerful piece of work. Near the end, the once-cowed and incompetent Shyamkali is seen pushing to the front of a crowd of reporters to get her footage, cell phone camera held high. Meera says, "I believe journalism is the essence of democracy." Considering the context of Uttar Pradesh, these words could not be more true.