New Delhi: The dark and dingy basement hardly seems like the location for a film winning accolades internationally. But this modest workplace of brothers Nadeem Shehzad and Mohammad Saud is the setting for Delhi-based filmmaker, Shaunak Sen’s, ‘All That Breathes’. The film won the the top documentary honors – L’Œil d’or (Golden Eye) award, at this year’s Cannes film festival. It t had its World premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2022, where it won Grand Jury Prize in World Cinema Documentary Competition.
With one simple intention in their heart – “No bird should die due to injury, without getting proper treatment, food and water”, the brothers from Delhi’s Wazirabad village kick-started their NGO Wildlife Rescue, from the roof of their house in 2010.
Nadeem Shehzad and Mohammad Saud decided to fight a tedious battle for their patients – sparrows, black kites, in a bid to save the birds that adorn the hazy skies of the national capital.
The reason why Filmmaker Shaunak Sen was interested to capture the story of this brother duo was because he found some philosophical disposition towards climate change that felt very refreshing and different. He said, “I was also very interested in the human-animal relationship, as a sight philosophical query, I was conceptually interested in it. I started looking for people who have a deep or profound relationship with the sky or birds. That’s when I encountered the work of the brothers. Once you have gone to their house and their damp basement, it is very inherently cinematic.”
Sitting in their cramped basement, with the traffic filled, crowded roads of Wazirabad village, a floor above them, the brothers are surrounded by cardboard boxes, each containing a kind of bird. Injured, unwell, in dire need of help. These birds that dropped of the skies for variety of reasons, are rescued, treated and restored back to health by these two brothers. In the last 20 years, the siblings have rescued over 25,000 birds. They cater to at least 40 species each year, and have almost 100 birds healing in their rooftop on any given day. Today, their work has broken the confines of the four walls and is drawing international attention.
Team Banega Swasth India spoke with the brother duo to know more about their work, journey and their motivation behind this initiative and how winning award at Cannes has changed their life.
NDTV: Tell us how your journey of saving black kites and other birds in Delhi began?
Nadeem Shehzad: This whole thing started from our childhood days. One fine day, coming from our school, we found an injured black kite lying on the side of the road. The bird was entangled in a manja (the glass powder coated kite flying string). This was the first time we saw how birds fall prey to injuries and even death due to a fun sport like kite flying. The injured birds, usually end up in the gutters or on the roadside, and many a times, don’t get proper treatment and ultimately die due to trauma of not being able to fly, lack of food, water and care. That day we decided to take the injured bird to a doctor in our nearby area, so that it can get proper treatment. It is that day we learnt that nobody is volunteering to rescue an injured bird. We knocked many doors, veterinary clinics and were told that we do not treat carnivorous birds. Days and years passed by, we kept on seeing injured birds lying on roads helplessly. In 2003, we came across another injured black kite, that day, we took the matters into our own hands and decided to take care of it, we picked the bird and brought it at our home, gave it proper treatment, whatever we could, we gave food and water. And since then, there has been no looking back. When we release the injured birds in open air after the treatment, we call that as our paycheck day.
NDTV: What does an average day in your life at Wildlife Rescue Centre look like?
Mohammad Saud: What started by saving one black kite has now crossed the landmark of rescuing more than 25,000 birds. This work requires a lot of time, patience and hard work. We come at our makeshift clinic daily in the morning, every day we handle 40-50 cases, one person from our centre goes to nearby veterinary hospitals, in case they have any birds they are unable to take care of. We examine these cases, then depending on the requirement give them treatment. The basic treatment is given by us at the clinic only, if some surgery is required then we try and hunt for a specialised doctor who can pay these creatures a visit and provide treatment. We also take care of their food, water and diet. Basically, we are a shelter home for these birds.
NDTV: What are the major threats to these birds and what are the kind of cases you handle mostly?
Nadeem Shehzad: The maximum cases we get are of birds that have injured wings, in most of the cases, it is because of Manja.
Mohammad Saud: One of the major threats for birds and black kites is kite flying. Every year, 25,000 to 30,000 birds die in the city due to the manja – a synthetic thread that is basically coated with glass and metal and is used to fly kites. Another major threat is how are cities are developing and destroying the natural habitat of the birds. Lastly, Climate Change is also having an impact on their lives. Today, we are seeing many species are going extinct, whereas, in some the population is increasing at a worrying rate. Due to the changes in environment, we are seeing an impact on birds and black kites. In the month of April and May, in Delhi, we faced a severe heatwave and because of that we saw a two-fold increase in dehydration cases on a daily basis. Whereas, the death rate increased by 3 – 4 times this year.
NDTV: Why is saving Black Kites important, how do they restore natural balance in our environment?
Nadeem Shehzad: Not many people know this, but Black Kites help restore the natural balance in the environment. They help eat dead animals and waste that we throw from our households. India is at No.1 in slaughter houses. There is a lot of meat refuse that comes out of that, which is thrown into dumpyards as that is not suitable for eating by the humans. This meat dump could have just stayed in dump yards if Black Kites were not there and hence their presence is crucial to maintain a healthy environment. In a way they prevent us from getting many diseases, infections through exposure to that unsuitable waste from the dumping grounds and also they help reduce the wastage. Also, Black Kites also help control active-rodents population like rats. Therefore, they are of utmost importance for Urban-ecology health.
Mohammad Saud: Our environment is in need of birds like Black Kites. In the world, Delhi is the only city that has a lot of Black Kites population. Sadly, it is also the city that sees a lot of deaths of Black Kites. Many a times, people treat Black Kites, Owl, very differently. We get calls from people saying that we will not touch these birds, please come and help us dispose them of. Some feel these birds bring bad luck, while some are simply scared as they are meat eaters. Nobody understands why they are important and how they are benefiting the environment.
NDTV: What are the health implications of the work you do? And what are the safety measures that are followed?
Nadeem Shehzad: Diseases among Mammals vary from the diseases in birds. – it is very rare that you will find out that a person has gotten infected with a bird disease. For so many years, we have been handling many types of birds, Black Kites especially – till date we haven’t got any infection or disease from them. Secondly, when we treat them, we take utmost precautions like we wear gloves and mask.
Mohammad Saud: We also take two vaccines on a yearly basis or as and when required – tetanus injection and anti-rabies vaccine. Though these birds don’t have rabies but we take for our precaution.
NDTV: Your journey from Wazirabad to International Film festivals and honours like at Cannes and Sundance. How has winning at Cannes changed your life?
Nadeem Shehzad: We didn’t even think in our dreams that our work will go in some film festival and we will go to take an award for it. It is a very different feeling. Since the beginning of our work, our intention was to take care of Black Kites and other birds, who are injured. We were not ready to accept the fact that these injured birds should be left to die…
Mohammad Saud: Winning award at Cannes has given us an international presence, which I am hoping will help us garner donations for our work.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.