All That Breathes
The Oscar Season is slowly warming up and while Chhello Show did get snubbed in the Best Foreign Film Category, India’s hopes are pinned on the three other categories – Best Song, Best Short Documentary and Best Documentary(full length) where Naatu Naatu, The Elephant Whisperers and All That Breathes have been nominated respectively. While I did watch and absolutely adored The Elephant Whisperers on Netflix and I wish Naatu Naatu(which did win the Golden Globes recently) the very best, I was really keen on watching Shaunak Sen’s documentary All That Breathes, given its glowing word of mouth from last year. Finally the film did premiere on HBO Max and I happened to catch it. While it hasn’t had a full fledged release in India(and I honestly think that the release would be difficult), I was intrigued by its poster and its synopsis that did seem that the film has its heart in the right place. That said, does All That Breathes manage to impress, lets find out.
Story & Screenplay
All That Breathes follows the story of two brothers who devote their lives in protecting and taking care of Kites amidst the changing weather and escalating tensions of Delhi. The story is almost meditative, formulating a stark contrast between humans and birds yet equating them and all other species on the same level. To completely understand the documentary, you would need a good knowledge on the current affairs of the capital and the situation that the characters find themselves in due to the modern day political and environmental setup. The screenplay standing at a shade above 90 minutes does make for a compelling watch.
The drama opens with certain stills from the city New Delhi wherein the makers just wanted the viewers to absorb its vibes. The frame is foggy, stuffy and filled with air pollution with the lighting being dim and grim. The camera is content on providing a fleeting glimpse of a few species near a pile of garbage which have now learnt to adapt against the ever changing topography and apocalyptic air that they have been privy too. Amidst layers of grim and darkness, there is a ray of hope in the form the protagonists, two brothers and a third friend, who do take care of dozens of birds which are affected due to the air in the capital.
The stark contrast of air is observed against the backdrop of a changing and much more violent political air that surrounds the characters and birds alike. It is almost like a comparison between the two that formulates the drama, that is content with scurrying the camera across the streets and polluted water bodies without forming any judgement. The times are dark yet hope lives on to fight another day.
Amidst the chaos, there are tender and heartwarming moments too featuring the birds. The philosophical nature of the drama does equate feeding the Kites as a part of attaining peace and washing off your sins. The core emotion is so inculcated in the two protagonists who recall their words of their grandma – All That Breathes should have the right to be treated equally. Another fleeting thought being that humans often forget that they are pieces of flesh too amongst other species, likewise. These philosophies embrace the drama with a lot of warmth thus summing up the screenplay which is very well staged.
The motive of the documentary was always to present facts without forming politically motivated judgements. But given even an iota of the latter, I find it difficult for this documentary to officially premiere on an OTT platform(and I would be the happiest if it does). Having said that, the documentary does leave you with several fleeting thoughts on what the world may have come to and would acceptance of each other(species included) pave the way for the future generations. The air is getting worse by the day yet there are no signs of slowing down. In times when the AQI of more than 150 has forced schools to shut down elsewhere, the AQI in the range of 500 may not be enough to keep people indoors. And the impact of that on mother nature is fatal, something which was nicely highlighted in the documentary. The impact is subtle yet profound.
One of the main reasons why most of the issues erupt is due to the divisive gaze with which most of us view the world. The virtue of being empathetic towards others is the need of the hour – be it birds, animals or even plants. It is a full ecosystem that needs to change from one species – humans. If we are aware of the surroundings and help nature, nature in turn will help too. There was a beautiful reference of the kites eating 1.5 tonnes of garbage waste in a jiffy, in turn just wanting pure air to thrive. Which is pretty much what nature warrants – some care and the rest would fall in place. Something to ponder about. I still feel that change is something that wouldn’t happen overnight, it is a continuous hustle. So to adapt, like the birds do, is also the need of the hour. Needless to say cleanliness is next to godliness, a space which is far away from the politics and violence which is all man made. Peace, care and empathy are virtues of a lifetime!
All That Breathes is a meditative documentary on the environment against the backdrop of a social commentary that comes with my highest recommendation.