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Night Hawks: A Moving Film On How Delhi Treats Its Most Marginalised At Night

Posted on September 16, 2016 in Culture-Vulture, Staff Picks

By Sourodipto Sanyal

Editor’s Note: As part of our coverage of PSBT’s Open Frame Film Festival And Forum 2016 that is going on in Delhi (13th – 20th September), Youth Ki Awaaz will be featuring reviews of films and interviews with directors. This year’s theme is “Reflections and Ruminations.” Scroll down for schedule details.


Uma Tanuku’s “Night Hawks”, a less than an hour long documentary film is a visual study. A study on the subalterns on a night in the cruel city of Delhi. An overburdened city which cannot afford to spare even young children living in shelters. It’s a film on the people who have not been allowed to reap the benefits of India’s markets opening up. The homeless, the vegetable vendors, non- governmental organisation workers, the traffic controllers at night.

Cinema is a visual art. Yet, it is one of those films where sound is as important as the moving images. The honking of the trucks, the desperate conversations of the traffic controllers clearing up a smashed car in the middle of the night, sounds of the trumpet and the drummers in Indian weddings, the desperate pleas of the homeless asking for a little more food, screeching halts of a bus create a feeling of melancholia and loneliness throughout the film. There are very minimal dialogues and conversations in the film, making the atmosphere even more eerie.

The film begins with a man crossing a road in front of a toll booth. There is perhaps something very brutal in the nature of a city like Delhi which prevents people driving cars and trucks to stop for a man crossing the road. The harshness and intolerance of the city is beautifully captured in the first shot. The rest of the film is an observation on people forced to live on the margins.

Some scenes will remind the viewer why documentary film making is an art. Two very young homeless children are flying kites and in the backdrop one sees the landscape of the city, a mirror to the extravagance of a neo-liberal India which can only be afforded by kids who have had a little more luck in life. Or the close up shots of musicians at a wedding where one is convinced that despite playing such a crucial part in something so auspicious, they themselves have had their souls sucked out.

Yet, even amidst the harshness, there is a ray of hope. Volunteers from Helpage India go to homeless people on footpaths, providing them with free blankets and restoring some hope in a world which has forgotten to be sensitive. Little homeless kids deprived of a childhood, yet attempting to read English words will give you hope that somewhere in the distance there will be a better future.

The filmmaker convinces the viewer that documentary as an art form is important. It’s the form of cinema which explores reality, controlling its urge to get into the realm of fantasy.

Catch  Uma Tanuku’s film “Night Hawks” at 10.30 am on September 17 at India International Centre. To see the full Open Frames Festival programme, click here.