It takes time for “While We Watched” to gain momentum: Shukla’s genuine approach spends the first half hour or so pointing out the broader problem. What follows is a series of raucous videos of sleazy Indian anchors vying for the public’s attention by serving up polarizing red meat. For them, this means denouncing any opponents as enemies of the state or anti-nationalists. Shukla juxtaposes these deafening clips with images of Kumari in melancholy silence. This dynamic back-and-forth borders on overkill, as it doesn’t take long to get the gist of the dire journalistic situation at hand.
“While We Watched” doesn’t begin until it turns into a crisis of confidence for Kumar. Can he still practice the kind of reporting necessary to keep a public informed in the face of extremism, or should he leave the profession altogether?
We begin to see NDTV take a lot of flak for Kumar’s search for the truth: the government possibly censors the station’s broadcasts by jamming its signal, other anchors attack Kumar, and he receives a mountain of death threats from angry viewers. As a result, NDTV begins to lose viewers and reach, causing several journalists to leave, to the point that the network is reduced to a skeleton crew. Even Kumar’s superiors have hinted that perhaps he should back off his criticism of the government and other rival news programs.
Some of the documentary’s best scenes arise from watching the craft of reporting at work as these writers try to piece together breaking news, even as their limited resources put obstacles in their way. Other fascinating, introspective moments occur as Kumar ponders his place in the industry. He begins to lose faith, even turning the tide of delirium. In one scene, he answers a maniacal caller by defending her; he even asks the menacing voice to sing along. The danger only increases as tensions between Hindus and Muslims worsen when a 2019 terror attack led to the death of 40 CRPF soldiers in India.