If you’ve ever walked around Old Delhi and wondered what life is like for many thousands of Dilliwalahs living in and around its lanes and gulis, then Shaunak Sen’s award winning documentary, Cities of Sleep, is a film that you have to make the time to go and see.
Fortunately for you, it’s on the bill at the Festival of South Asian Documentaries being held at the India International Centre this Saturday.
Set against the backdrop of the iconic Red Fort and Jama Masjid, Cities of Sleep is documentary filmmaker Shaunak Sen first feature length film.
If you’re expecting a flick that tells the story of Shahjahanabad’s famed tourists sites and its rich cultural history, prepare to be disappointed. Sen has a much bigger mission in mind.
In Cities of Sleep he explores a world where just being able to secure a good night’s sleep can become a matter of life and death.
Sen follows the lives of two individuals, Shakeel, a street sleeper and Ranjeet, a sleep provider and community entrepreneur.
Shakeel, who has slept rough in Old Delhi for the past seven years, shares how he searches for safe, secure and warm places to sleep in winter. He introduces Sen to the ‘Sleep Mafia’, men that take over vacated market areas and rent out floor space, cots and blankets for between 20INR and 50 INR a night. If you know Old Delhi you’ll recognise many of the places where the sleep mafia make their beds for rent.
Away from the crowded streets of Old Delhi, Sen meets Ranjeet, who runs a sleep cinema on the backs of the Yumana. At Loha Pul, around 400 homeless come to sleep and watch films for a nominal fee in a shanty cinema. But as the monsoon rains arrive and the river rises, a place of rest for many of Delhi’s migratory homeless is at risk of flooding.
“The whole city is divided on the basis of sleep. To figure out the extent of someone’s power, observe the way they sleep,” observes Ranjeet, who becomes the film’s sleep philosopher. His sleep cinema, with its community feel, is a very different operation to that run by the sleep mafia in the markets of Old Delhi.
I attended the film’s launch at School of Arts and Aesthetics Auditorium, JNU University, in November last year. Humbling, Brilliant. Five Stars.
Sen shines a light on what life is really like for many Dilliwalahs. That means it’s a documentary that’s definitely worth seeing.
When: Saturday 20th August, 2.30pm
Where is it? C.D. Deshmukh Auditorium India International Centre, Max Muller Marg. Google map link is here.