Just Cheel….Here’s Why All That Breathes Stands A Very Good Chance Of Winning The Oscar

Watching All That Breathes is like watching two different stories meshed into one

Just Cheel….Here’s Why  All That Breathes Stands A  Very Good Chance Of Winning The Oscar

Subhash K Jha

All That Breathes is very likely to bring us the Oscar for best documentary. Not only is it attention-worthy  for its exceptional humanism, but also the deeper political thrusts that have far graver ramifications than the kites (cheel) falling from the sky and being nursed to health by two brothers Nadeem and Saud.

Not even the most diehard cynic can question the selfless compassion of the two brothers. The director Shaunak Sen adopts the reality-television  approach. We see the brothers and their family in their portable home in  old Delhi not even the size of an average home for two people, housing  hundreds of birds. They speak to one  another  as though they are  unaware of the camera. This, if we think about it, is a subtle form  of subterfuge, though it appears to be just the opposite. I would have  preferred to see Nadeem and Saud acknowledging the presence of the camera.

What I really liked about  Nadeem  and Saud’s devotion to  healing the birds was the absence of self-congratulations. They are not in this to become heroes. This makes the international acclaim of this documentary  fairly ironical. For, here we have the most reluctant heroes I’ve ever seen. If you  ask them why they bring wounded  kites home they will probably  ask you to just cheel.

Remarkably the entire documentary is  done without the intervention of  a narrator or a narration. It’s just the two brothers  in their kerchief-sized sanctuary doing the best they can for these sky bound creatures.

It is a beautiful fable , the stuff that fairytales are made of, rendered in the timbre of reality, denuded  of vanity and arrogance.

But at the same time  All That  Breathes, for all its custom-built candour on the shift on  the  eco-system (there are evocations of dark dingy skylines and  birds falling from the sky) has a disturbing political undercurrent . It is no coincidence  that this family of bird lovers is Muslim.  

 The fact this gentle eco-friendly family represents that secular role-model—the humane  apotheosized Muslim joint family—is driven home through constant evocations of violence outside and hate speeches on  loudspeakers right outside  the modest but therapeutic bird sanctuary for  kites that Nadeem and Saud have built.

We hear at  one point the two brothers  discussing their depleting funds to look after their birds, and how the government won’t allow them  any foreign funding. The insinuation being, since they are a Muslim family they are  looked on with suspicion, no matter how noble their intentions.

In another slanted  reference  to Islamophobia, one  of  the  brothers’ wives asks  gently why they have to migrate to  Pakistan  or Bangladesh if and when they are branded refugees in India.

Watching  All That  Breathes  is like watching  two different  stories  meshed into one. While the story of two brothers tending to birds is supremely  heartwarming, the other story of a Muslim family struggling to keep their altruistic aspirations  alive in the midst of growing hostility and isolation seemed incongruous and a little out of place  .

 Do the birds care whether their caretakers pray at a temple or a mosque?

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