Streaming real stories.
By Mahmood Hossain
There used to be a time when well-executed documentaries were very far in between. They were also considered a completely different pursuit in the art of filmmaking, documenting real-world people and stories from a certain point of view, on a much smaller budget. With today’s technology and greater emphasis on storytelling on streaming, documentaries have been released in droves. While some rely on their flair for dramatics, others remain true to their fly-on-the-wall perspectives. Either way, it still makes for great entertainment. More importantly, it helps us better reflect on our own experiences.
Here is a diverse mix of Indian documentaries from the past couple of years that are either critically acclaimed or highly recommended. And they are all, most definitely, worth the watch.
All That Breathes (2022)
With a 99 percent ‘Fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 87 on Metascore, and has made its rounds through the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival, All That Breathes is a wonderful story about two brothers, Nadeem Shezad and Mohammad Saud, who run a bird clinic in Wazirabad, Delhi. Rescuing and treating injured black kites (medium-sized birds of prey), the film uncovers the flaws of the modern world, from environmental crises to the lack of human accountability, all in one community. This is a beautifully shot and directed film that blends nature and human drama, much like the urban environment encroaching upon the wild. The brothers are the best of us, aiming to create a world where humans and animals coexist.
Against the Tide (2023)
Rated 84 on Metascore and 95 percent ‘Fresh’ on Rotten Tomatoes, Against the Tide follows two indigenous fishermen in Mumbai, India, as their friendship hangs in the balance while they go their separate ways to keep their struggling families afloat. While Ganesh approaches his duties with the latest technology and a large crew, Rakesh operates with humble means, adhering to traditional Koli methods. Their contrasting views, however, are met with common challenges and can only be overcome by remaining resolute. This film is a stunning view into an ecosystem that is tainted by corporate greed and the drastic shift in the climate, and where one friend commits to favourable decisions compared to the other.
The Elephant Whisperers (2022)
There are plenty of hard-hitting documentaries that will leave you devastated and speechless. The winner of the Academy Awards Best Documentary Short Film, The Elephant Whisperers delivers what critic Poulomi Das appropriately stated as, “ultimately a love story about the power of community.” This heartwarming project displays pure devotion and care by Bomman and Bellie for an orphaned baby elephant named Raghu. Set in South India, both the couple and the elephant forge a special familial bond while showcasing the nature of the Indian culture and the purity of environmental conservation. Be warned, this film can also be considered a tear-jerker; but in a good way.
The Hunt for Veerappan (2023)
This four-part docuseries on Netflix is about an infamous poacher and smuggler who conquered the South Indian jungles, later becoming the subject of the biggest manhunt in India for 20 years. Some stories play out like Hollywood scripts, only to realise it’s non-fiction. Veerappan is responsible for building a criminal empire, a long-standing rivalry with the police, and adding to an extensive list of abductions, violence, and bloodshed. This series has become more of a fan favourite (with an 86 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes) than a recommendation by critics (4 out of 4 critics rated it ‘Fresh’), which shouldn’t deter audiences from watching and enjoying it.
Writing with Fire (2021)
Writing with Fire is one of the best examples of women empowerment, a documentary that follows Chief Reporter Meera and her team of dedicated journalists shattering traditions in a male-dominated industry by being India’s only newspaper led and run by Dalit women. With a 100 percent ‘Fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film is regarded as a spirited tribute to the power of journalism against the frightening forces standing against it. Not only are these women fearless and tenacious, but they also use the best of human ingenuity and tools on hand to confront social injustices and fight for marginalised voices. This serves as inspiration for aspiring journalists and a rejuvenating experience for seasoned ones.