It is hard to identify the exact moment at which All That Breathes transforms from a chronicle of two brothers’ mission to save kites into a document of the tenuous position of Muslims in contemporary India.
It is hard to identify the exact moment at which All That Breathes transforms from a chronicle of two brothers’ mission to save kites into a document of the tenuous position of Muslims in contemporary India.

The secrets of ‘All That Breathes’

Shaunak Sen’s Oscar-nominated documentary looks at Muslim brothers caring for kites in Delhi, but also carries a veiled message on religious hatred in Modi’s India

In a scene that forms a connecting tissue between various themes in the documentary All That Breathes, two brothers stand praying beside their mother's grave in Delhi. Nadeem Shehzad and Mohammad Saud have spent over two decades treating injured and unwell birds – specifically, kites – in the city. As they leave the cemetery, they reminisce about their Ammi's religious fables and tales of djinns, which gave them their earliest understanding of science and animals. She spoke of spirits that appear in the form of serpents and insects, one of them recalls. "One shouldn't differentiate between all that breathes," he says. "Trees, fungus, or vegetation, natural and supernatural worlds were mixed for her."

The interconnectedness of living beings is the thread running through the Indian director Shaunak Sen's documentary feature, nominated for an Oscar at the Academy Awards in Hollywood this weekend. The film focuses as much on human beings as on birds, though the way it has been framed leaves it wide open to interpretation.

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