Shadow Bird and The Beauty of Cinematography

shadow bird

A potential champion of our diaspora at the 2022 Oscars is the film Shadow Bird, which has qualified for possible nomination in the “Best Short Film” category.

A profoundly beautiful tale of the rich history of rural India, the short is Savita Singh’s directorial debut, a winner of the National Film Award for Best Cinematography and one of the founding members of the Indian Women Cinematographers Collective.

Coming off of a National Film Award win of its own, the film is poised to make its mark in American cinema. Below is our review of the short by film expert Aroon Shivdasani.

 

shadow bird
Director Savita Singh hard at work behind the scenes

Savita Singh’s directorial debut film Shadow Bird (Sonsi) is a lyrical meander through Nadi’s dreams – if they are dreams… that part is always left open despite seeing her lying with her eyes closed at regular intervals. She seems to move easily through a conscious and subconscious state. Her obsession with the “shadow bird” (literally an Indonesian puppet shadow bird) takes her into a mysterious deep green forest typical of a heavily rain-drenched countryside. The beautiful cinematography of a quiet lush landscape with ancient monuments sets the scene for a tale that is both real and fantasy.

A sleepy village awakes with the entrance of “Ghari baba” every morning. The local doctor discovers Ghari Baba has a clock where his heart should be. Rumor has it that he had stolen the key to the village clock years ago and thrown it into the river resulting in everything coming to a standstill until he arrives each morning to reset the time and wind it (and therefore the village) for another day.  

 

shadow bird

Elements of mystery include the fact that Ghari Baba has no shadow, knew of Nadi’s “secret” shadow bird and somehow “stole” her Sonsi. Key conversations are conducted in whispers. The village is known to “breathe in the white fog of Jatayu’s spirit” & the constant rain is referred to as “tears of anguish.” We hear thunder and lightning, yet when Nadi ventures into the forest there is no rain and she never gets wet. Who are the people in the faded brown group photograph that keeps appearing?

The aging Ghari baba (Jameel Khan) and the young Nadi (Arohi Radhakrishnan) serenely wander through the forest looking for Sonsi. Nadi fears that the trees have trapped her voice but Ghari Baba converses with the trees in an unintelligible language. 

 

shadow bird

When Nadi discovers Sonsi in Ghari baba’s studio, he gently shares the bird with the delighted young girl. There is no animosity – just curiosity about Nadi’s discovery. Her subsequent awakening in her own bed the next morning to find parts of a clock in her hand, make her smile. Were they parts stolen from her father’s clock? The village clock? Or…what exactly had Ghari Baba given her?

A delightful story, beautifully rendered, leaves us with food for thought.