A poetic new film follows two devoted brothers who save Delhi’s black kites

In 2017, a Audubon magazine story introduced readers to Mohammed Saud and Nadeem Shahzad, brothers from Delhi, India, who have dedicated their lives to rehabilitate injured raptors. Now a new documentary film, anything that breathesis garnering praise for its study of the brothers, the black kites they rescue (with the help of their endearing mentee Salik Rehman), and the complex interconnections between humans and animals in one of the world’s most populous cities. world.

As its title suggests, Shaunak Sen’s film, now in theaters and airing next year on HBO Max, is about much more than black kites, a species that thrives in Delhi largely by scavenging trash. He is also concerned about environmental degradation in a city where the air is so polluted that breathing it has caused around 54,000 premature deaths in 2020 and where its “pure opacity”, for the movie website, “ensures that larger birds, especially raptors, regularly collide with buildings or become entangled in wires.” And behind Sen’s lyrical shots of this urban environment looms a horrific wave of sectarian violence against Muslims like the film’s heroes.

More directly, however, anything that breathes– the first film to win best documentary at the Sundance and Cannes festivals – is about the brothers’ refusal to ignore the suffering of the plentiful but vulnerable black kites. Audubon spoke with Sen about the film and his subjects’ extraordinary devotion to their avian neighbors.

Audubon: How did you first meet the brothers?

Sen: When you live in a city like Delhi, the air has a heavy, opaque, and pervasive quality to it. It’s as if you were surrounded by this kind of gray lamina which constantly covers your life. And you are very aware of breathing noxious fumes, and the sky is like this monochromatic gray expanse with tiny dots – Black Kites. So basically what happened was that I wanted to do something about the triangulation of people, birds, and air. I think if I had to pinpoint a moment of what led me to meet the brothers, I was stuck in a traffic jam and staring at the lazy dots in the sky that are black kites. After noticing that one of them seemed to somehow collapse, I was struck by the silhouette of a bird falling from the Delhi sky. I quickly started researching what happens to birds that fall from the sky, and that’s where I first met the brothers. And the minute you walk into their tiny, very dark, abandoned basement with these very industrial heavy metal cutting machines on one side and these masterful birds on the other, it’s thematically dramatic.

Audubon: And you knew right away that they would be at the center of your film?

Sen: The film took us three years, but once you start a movie, it’s like jumping off a cliff, isn’t it? It’s a free fall. And I was very taken with the brothers and their sort of hypnotic, voracious relationship with Black Kites. I read a lot of literature that presented birds as metaphors – you know, books like PilgrimWhere H is for HawkWhere Sorrow is the thing with feathers—and a number of books that work with avian cultures and use them as poetic and lyrical references. For the brothers, the kite appears as a sort of being from another world, marvelous and magical. I was very attracted to this prospect.

Audubon: Can you talk about how black kites fit into this urban ecosystem or the role they play in Delhi’s culture?

Sen: I find it very interesting that it’s not a conservation crisis because Black Kite are doing very well. And I think Delhi has the densest black kite population in the world. The Black Kite is very central in the metabolism of the city. The movie is about this huge dump that’s in the city and the Black Kites are kind of part of the city’s microbiota. If the city is much like a stomach, they are absolutely crucial for its metabolism as they get rid of waste. They take care of the city’s waste. They are absolutely crucial for the ecological framework of the city.

Audubon: We have written on how these birds can be injured or killed by sharp strings used for kite competition in town. Is this still a significant threat to black kites or has the public become more aware of the danger to the birds?

Sen: It’s definitely a big threat, and I really don’t imagine the public has yet taken notice of it. On certain culturally important days of the year for the country, what happens is that when flying kites from the terrace, a lot of birds get tangled in the wires, and it’s a real problem. The number of birds falling is very, very, very large. So that’s absolutely a problem. As the film gained traction culturally, the problem was increasingly spotted. But no, I don’t think there is an awareness about it. It is extremely, extremely negligible. And the number of falling birds does not decrease at all.

Audubon: What was your biggest challenge in making this documentary?

Sen: I think there were several challenges. I think I’ll find the grammar to be able to talk about brothers, find the grammar to show the multiplicity of animals in a movie, and find the grammar to talk about birds creatively and lyrically. Making a non-fiction film is really making something out of nothing, and the world isn’t very supportive. It’s emotionally, financially, creatively draining, but it’s also rewarding, every day.

But what also happened is that I lost my father very suddenly in the middle of last year. And being able to be intuitive and authentic to what was going on in my life and to do that – you know, because your own life is kind of the raw material for the movie that you’re making. And to use it to be able to express the sad elegance of the brothers themselves. They were really texture challenges. But more than that, just stay there. Three years is a long time, and being there constantly takes a lot out of you.

Audubon: Compared to when you started this project, did you end the film with a different sense of what it was about or a different understanding of the relationship between humans and birds?

Sen: Completely different. Initially, I thought the movie might be an exploration of caring, an exploration of trans-species love between brothers and kites. But that’s not at all how it happened. All the stuff about the emotional fissures and the tension between the brothers and the rowdy stuff going on on the streets outside socially, you know, the fact that the city was boiling outside and all that – I don’t hadn’t anticipated at all. A lot of things were constantly changing, that’s how it should be. Documentaries are a radical embrace of the unexpected in life.

Audubon: You mentioned the troubles in Delhi. What impact did this have on filming?

Sen: Because things were so turbulent, the question was whether we included all of that. The brothers themselves are not, frankly, politicians in the sense that they are interested in the politics of humans, birds and non-human life, but not so much in sectarian politics based on identity with which the city was breaking up at that time. I didn’t want to miss it. I think the idea was that it’s going to be an oblique presence. It’s like wallpaper in their lives. And you would constantly feel the political rather than face it outright. So it leaks through the audio. A character walks to the balcony and you hear the crowd in the background. It is potentially present in a small, minor, and oblique way, but you just sense that there is something interesting that could be brewing. We were very conscious of not bringing it to the fore because it is not central to the life of the brothers.

Audubon: I noticed there were a lot of really raw moments with the brothers. They have a great sense of humor. They were joking while they were working on the birds. How did you get them to warm up in front of the camera?

Sen: Boredom. When you first show up, people are very aware of the essence they’re projecting on camera, and the cameras are very intrusive and very present at first. But boredom is your friend because if you keep showing up and filming every day, after a while people get bored with the camera, bored of you. When you get the first yawn on camera, that’s when you know you want to feel empty and real, and that only happens if people aren’t aware of you.

Audubon: What do you think is the most important thing you learned while making this film?

Sen: I think to be patient. It is very easy to be blinded by what is happening in the non-human world. So I’m thinking about that kind of patience to stay with the problem and look and have a bigger perspective, but also the patience to stay with the project and keep going until you find a proper, authentic form for it. And it’s very rewarding.

Audubon: There’s a lot of pain and sadness in this film, but it also seems to have something to say about the idea of ​​hope, or the ability of people and wildlife to adapt to difficult circumstances. Is it ultimately a hopeful work, or is it an all-too-easy answer to the difficult themes you’re struggling with here?

Sen: Well, I think there are two things about it. What I find interesting about the perspective of the brothers is that there is of course a kind of sadness and a kind of recognition of the inevitability of the ecological devastation that we are on the verge of. It’s as if they were at the forefront of the apocalypse: the birds are literally falling from the sky into their tiny basement. But having said that, the reason I find the brothers interesting is that they have… hope is maybe too simplistic, and I’m not saying that in a simplistic way. But there’s a cautious, cautious optimism they have. They have an ironic resilience, an unsentimental swath of ironic resilience, to just keep going, put your head down and keep going because the birds are falling and someone has to watch out, which I have really incredible respect for. I think the world needs more of those Don Quixotes to do those kind of micro-acts and micro-gestures. And these become the life rafts of hope.

About Herbert L. Leonard

Check Also

Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya Movie Holds One-Day Screenings on Story’s Dec. 18 Date – Interest

It becomes an annual tradition for Haruhi fans to celebrate the day the world changed …