Chronicling message of freedom through media

Documenting history

Tracing the journey of the Indian Press from its dominant role to its contributory and revolutionary role, especially of the language Press during the freedom struggle forms the core of the 55-minute documentary, Shabda Yatra  was screened at Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA).

Directed by Dr G S Raina, the film uses dates and voiceovers to state and narrate the accounts of different newspapers and periodicals that emerged from time to time. With a foundation of uprising and freedom, the Indian Press from the very first Hindi newspaper Udant Martand, published in Calcutta on May 30, 1826, to The Hindu in 1878, the period of 1780-1900 played a huge role for the Indian Press.

This provoked the British to launch a Vernacular Press Act, popularly known as the Gagging Act, in 1878, imposing many restrictions on the newspapers and periodicals of the day to repress seditious writing.

Gurbachan Chandan, a senior journalist and author notes in the film, ‘With the coming of the Vernacular Press Act, regional language Press found it hard to be published but still they kept at it.’ 

Another expert in the film suggests, “The advertisements for vacancies in the pre-independent times stated that the editor should be ready to go to jail (Kala paani in Andaman Islands) and be ready to work for two rotis a day.” It was also mentioned that “editors had one leg in jail and another in the printing press but they kept on publishing without any salary or any luxuries.”

Narrating the humiliations suffered by the editors of those times, the film archives the journey of the written word and the powerful role of the pen.

Indeed, ‘pen is mightier than sword’ is what the documentary highlights. Even in the post-Independence period, the Press continued to play an important role with India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru acknowledging the ‘Press as a powerful opposition’.

The documentary works thanks to detailed research and facts, along with clear voiceovers. Though, too many talking heads might seem to make it heavy for some, many of the instances narrated by the experts as historians and authors are worth documenting. 

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