The new age of Indian documentaries

Documentaries have seen a steady rise in popularity in recent years


July 30, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

The new age of Indian documentaries

In the last decade, India has seen a slue of remarkable documentaries commenting on social issues

With the recent trends, it will be safe to say that the Indian documentary genre is at an all-time high as far as popularity is concerned. And more than that, the documentarians who have captured this raw and authentic image of society, are finally getting recognised internationally.

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Google defines, a documentary to be “a film or television or radio programme that provides a factual report on a particular subject,” but Manan Kathuria, a 21-year-old aspiring documentarian describes it as “an art of storytelling which exhibits what’s actually there, the real location becomes your set, the people on whom the documentary is about, becomes your cast and everything else is natural.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Sukhpal Srivastav, another aspiring film maker from Mathura. “Documentaries are all about being authentic and real, they had always been about putting the raw and real truth out there,” says Srivastav, adding, “that’s what got me into it, telling the truth is the most thrilling kind of film making that exists.”

Kathuria, who is the director of documentaries like, Hearing the Fingers and Digital Mangar says, “Short documentaries which retrospect the lives of people over a period of time, or the places that have changed over a course of time are making their way ahead in today’s time.”

In the last decade or so, documentaries have had an almost meteoric rise in India, boosted by the arrival of OTTs and a greater public acceptance of documentaries. There are also a numerous film festivals held across the country. Some of the Indian creations have also made it big overseas.

Earlier this month, a documentary titled A Night of Knowing Nothing, directed by Payal Kapadia won the best documentary award at the recently concluded Cannes Film Festival. Kapadia’s film is part of a new wave of Indian documentaries, which explore and experiment with various forms of storytelling instead of sticking to the same old formulas.

Talking of experimental and exciting documentaries that also explore the deep dark veins of society, here are four that do just that:

1. An Insignificant Man (2017)

Co-produced and directed by Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla, this documentary captures the rise of anti-corruption movement in India, and later on the meteoric rise of Aam Admi Party in the 2013-14 Delhi elections. “I would say it is my favourite Indian documentary,” Srivastav tells Media India Group, “because just the fact that it falls under the ‘political’ genre is commendable enough. Political film making is the most difficult genre in India right now.”

It was a watershed moment for Indian political documentaries when the 90-minute film was finally able to get a worldwide release, through VICE. It went on to win many film festival awards, including ‘The best documentary prize’ at the Warsaw Film Festival.

2. Writing with Fire (2021)

A documentary film about the rise of the only newspaper run by a group of Dalit women, Khabar Lahariya, directed by Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas, it is a tale of fiery women standing up against injustices in the society.

“It is just one of those documentaries which make you feel empowered,” says Saumya Gupta, a student based in Delhi, “The women in the film have the uphill task of facing the harshest cruelties from our country, and yet, they decide to fight on and make their voices heard.”

Writing with Fire, earlier this year in February won the audience award at the coveted Sundance Film Festival.

3. Period. End of Sentence (2019)

Directed by Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton, it is one of the most acclaimed short documentaries set in India. “The film is surrounded by a circle of patriarchy, but the women strive hard to tackle it in the village of Hapur,” says Kathuria.

The movie sheds light on the long-standing issue of lack of knowledge and stigma around women’s menstruation cycle that still persists well into the 21st century in many parts of India.

The 25-minute-long documentary won an Oscar for the ‘best documentary short’ in 2019. “Rayka has captured the essence and spirit of the women of village Hapur in an exceptional way,” Kathuria tells Media India Group.

4. Children of the Pyre (2008)

Children of the Pyre is the earliest release on this list of documentaries. It came out in 2008, when Indian documentaries were still a good few years away from being the youth’s favourite past time and making headlines. “It was heart breaking, to be very honest when I first saw it,” says Gupta. “I was hardly 17 or 18 and some of the kids in the documentary were younger than me, I remember it being a difficult watch.”

The documentary follows seven children who make a living, cremating bodies and reselling stolen shrouds to merchants for a nominal income. Children of the Pyre won ‘Best Documentary’ at the 2008 Montreal World Film Festival.

In last two to three years the young-adult population of the country has really started to see the potential in the non-fiction genre. It has fueled people’s interest and their want for more personal and real stories.

“There is too much to explore,” adds Kathuria, “With the current trends evolving with the incoming of OTT platforms, fiction, and documentary films stand head-to-head and are being equally valued. There has been a gradual shift, as people are now using documentary films as their research and resource materials to craft stories and develop it into a fiction film. Everything is available on the touch of a button in today’s world. If anyone is intrigued by a story or stories and wishes to share it with the world, they can be a documentarian too. It just needs your passion, camera, microphone, pen, and a sheet of paper.”



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