Themes of class, gender, politics, lift the documentary ‘Writing with Fire,’ the story of women reporters in India.

Filmmakers Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh tell an inspiring story of women journalists in India via their Sundance documentary ‘Writing with Fire.’

Themes of class, gender, politics lift the documentary ‘Writing with Fire,’ the story of women reporters in India. Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Imagine juries at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival announcing a Call-to-Action Award, meaning a film that inspires audiences to impact their communities for good. I’m confident the prize will go to the documentary ‘Writing with Fire.’ Watch ‘Writing with Fire’ in World Cinema Documentary Competition at the reimagined Sundance Film Festival, and your advocacy for class and gender equality will experience an immediate lift. You’ll also share sky-high admiration for the film’s Indian women journalists risking their safety to make other lives better. 

Co-directors Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh tell the stories of Khabar Lahariya, India’s only newspaper run by Dalit or lower-caste women. The women journalists of Khabar Lahariya provide reporting in the northern India province of Uttar Pradesh and beyond that other media outlets fail to cover. They write stories on social justice issues that directly impact poor Indians, from political corruption to unsafe working conditions and violent crimes towards women. Each new assignment requires them to put themselves at risk and test their relationships with parents and husbands. 

Thomas and Ghosh are frequent collaborators, and their deep storytelling experience results in substantial character development, in-depth reporting, and swift-moving storytelling tracking the growth of Khabar Lahariya from 2016. Ghosh and Karan Thapliyal co-create the cinematography that brings the film a feeling of intimacy. From large political rallies to a work retreat at an Indian ski resort, Thomas and Ghosh make each audience member feel like a Khabar Lahariya team member.

Meera, a chief reporter, quickly emerges as the movie’s lead hero via day-in-and-day-out professionalism and tenacity while reporting on a woman’s multiple rapes. Backgrounds of busy Indian streets, modest homes, and the dirt roads of Uttar Pradesh emerge as an essential supporting character in the story. It’s important to understand where these women editors and reporters live and work.

How does ‘Writing with Fire’ transform into a civic documentary that makes an impact? Watching Meera and her coworkers report on stories driving viewers to the Khabar Lahariya YouTube channel, you see women impacting their communities for good with smartphones. They display the tenacity to ask the right questions. They demand politicians treat them seriously.

Watch the noisy street scenes in the movie, and you’ll see timeless and universal themes like ambition, class, poverty, and gender that make ‘Writing with Fire’ impactful. You may find yourself born into poverty. However, via hard work and talent, you can climb into a professional industry like media. 

You’ll leave the screening with the inspiration to live and work in ways that pay homage to the women of Khabar Lahariya. That’s a cinematic take-away worth celebrating. 

Directors: Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh

Editors: Anne Fabini. Sushmit Ghost. Rintu Thomas. 

Cinematographers: Sushmit Ghosh. Karan Thapliyal.

Production: Black Ticket Films. 

Distributor: TBD.


Air Date: TBD. 

Behind the Curtain: Follow the work of Khabar Lahariya reporters. Join the 497,000 subscribers on their YouTube channel.

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