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As legions of birds fall from New Delhi’s darkening skies, and the city smolders with social unrest, two brothers race to save a casualty of the turbulent times: the black kite, a majestic bird of prey essential to their city's ecosystem.
In one of the world’s most populated cities, two brothers — Nadeem and Saud — devote their lives to the quixotic effort of protecting the black kite, a majestic bird of prey essential to the ecosystem of New Delhi that has been falling from the sky at alarming rates. Amid environmental toxicity and social unrest, the ‘kite brothers’ spend day and night caring for the creatures in their makeshift avian basement hospital.
Director Shaunak Sen (Cities of Sleep) explores the connection between the kites and the Muslim brothers who help them return to the skies, offering a mesmerizing chronicle of inter-species coexistence.
Shaunak Sen is a filmmaker and film scholar based in New Delhi, India.
Cities of Sleep (2016), his first feature-length documentary, was shown at various major international film festivals (including DOK Leipzig, DMZ Docs and the Taiwan International Documentary Festival, among others) and won 6 international awards.
Shaunak received the IDFA Bertha Fund (2019), the Sundance Documentary Grant (2019), the Catapult Film Fund (2020), the Charles Wallace Grant, the Sarai CSDS Digital Media fellowship (2014), and the Films Division of India fellowship (2013). He was also a visiting scholar at Cambridge University (2018) and has published academic articles in Bioscope, Widescreen and other journals.
If you stare long enough at the grey monotone skies in certain parts of North Delhi, at some point you’ll see a bird fall out of the sky. The sheer opacity of New Delhi’s toxic air ensures that bigger birds, especially raptors, regularly collide into buildings or get entangled in wires.
Nadeem and Saud grew up in a working-class Muslim neighborhood with narrow, dingy lanes. The act of looking up – by their own admission – provided a kind of release into an open, liberating expanse. At a very early age, they fell in love with things that flew. They fell in love, in particular, with the black kite.
As children, they lay on their terrace, gazing up as the elders in their family tossed raw meat skyward. They watched as hundreds of kites appeared and maneuvered through the air with great agility to catch the meat. ‘Meat tossing’ continues to be a popular activity in Muslim areas of Delhi. Muslims believe that the act of feeding birds-of-prey washes away the sins of the meat-tosser.
When a black kite first fell to the ground in front of them, the brothers took it to a bird hospital. The hospital, however, refused to treat it – because it was a “non-vegetarian” bird. At the time, the teenage Nadeem and Saud were training to be professional bodybuilders. They used their informal knowledge of muscles and tendons to care for the bird on their own. Since then, they have operated on and rehabilitated more than 20,000 birds in their tiny garage-basement, while dreaming of someday building a proper wildlife hospital.
Today the brothers are unique philosophers of the urban. In 2017, Delhi’s air was 12 times worse than the second most polluted city in the world, Beijing. Such an extreme environment prompts unprecedented changes in nonhuman life. The brothers are expert witnesses to these remarkable ecological changes. More about All That Breathes here:
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