Issue 004 Summer 2022 Reviews

A Kinship of Air

Shaunak Sen's 'All That Breathes'

By Bedatri D. Choudhury

From All That Breathes (2022), dir. Shaunak Sen. Image courtesy of Kiterabbit Films.


There is a Bengali song about pigeons that I grew up listening to in my childhood home in Calcutta.


It is by the recently deceased musician Sandhya Mukherjee and describes the birds as “sliver-like citizens flying in the sky, basking in the brightness of their timeless wings.” Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes (2022) likewise brings together slivers of citizenry, of all life forms, to create a document of existence in the city of New Delhi today—complete in its fracturedness. Though not specifically about pigeons, this Sundance-winning documentary revolves around birds, especially the city’s hawk-like black kites.

The narrative concerns two brothers, Saud and Nadeem, who, from their basement office in New Delhi, run a soap dispenser business, along with an avian hospital especially for the kites—birds of prey that are a fixture in Delhi skies. For some Muslims, feeding them meat is considered virtuous; it is believed that the animals eat away one’s sins along with the meat and carry the provider’s prayers as they soar towards the sky. And their hunger, notes Nadeem’s voiceover, is boundless, just like their flight.

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