Mumbai, 02 Feb 2018 13:21 IST
The documentary, produced by Films Division, showcases Shaikh, who feeds stray dogs and cats on the streets of Mumbai every night.
Mumbai's stray dogs and cats have guardian angels in the form of various animals feeders across the island city. Tangella Madhavi's Chasing Tails takes a closer look at the life of one such animal feeder, Muneera Shaikh, who spends her nights in the welfare of such animals, treating them like family and friends.
The 52-minute documentary opens with a yawning Shaikh, with a large bag slung over her shoulder, just like Santa Claus. But unlike the jolly old man, Shaikh makes it a point to feed the city's dogs and cats, come rain or shine, not just once a year. The fearless lady has been doing this for a while now, despite opposition from her family and strangers on the streets who accost those feeding animals.
Muneera Shaikh can take care of herself, she assures the camera over and over again. She walks the small, narrow streets of the slums and largely desolate highways of Mumbai with purpose — nothing will deter her from her goal.
Nightly, she greets her large brood of dogs in different neighbourhoods with love and affection. She has delightful names for many — from Bol Bachchan to Ponga Pandit — and doesn't hesitate to chide them if they have done something wrong. For many canines, many of them senior dogs, she is the only one looking out for them.
She also turns makeshift nurse, groomer and vet as she gives them medicinal baths, trims their fur and checks them for ticks. Her home serves as recovery clinic for many wide-eyed stray cats.
The resilient Shaikh breaks down twice in the film — once when a dog is put to sleep after she admitted him to the city's animal hospital but can't afford to pay for him, and then when she finds the corpse of a dog she was caring for and quietly buries her. The latter is a moving sequence in the film; another stray dog watches the impromptu burial silently while tears stream down Muneera Shaikh's face as she throws dirt over the dead dog.
The animal feeders of the city are unsung heroes with a thankless job and often berated for their efforts.
In the documentary, Shaikh seeks to educate others on how to treat animals. She gets into a heated argument with a man who says strays only bite humans. Why don't you deal with men who murder and rape others first, she retorts.
Another time, she takes back food for the dogs as she discovers it is burnt. If I can't eat it, how can I feed you, she tells an expectant dog. But she returns with another bag of food.
Chasing Tails is a poignant and inspiring tale of one of Mumbai's citizens. It will hopefully allow the rest of the city to look beyond the strays as just a nuisance. Shaikh seems blunt in her interactions with those around her as she speaks in typical Mumbai lingo, but her message of harmony with animals seems universal and timeless.
Kudos to filmmaker Madhavi and her team for shining a spotlight on animal advocates like Shaikh. They have brought out the loneliness and calm of Mumbai at night in a beautiful way, when the teeming masses of the day mostly fade away.
And yes, be kind to the animals you see on streets, they are often nicer than many of the humans who pass you by. Shaikh would heartily agree!
Chasing Tails was screened as part of the National Competition section at the 15th Mumbai International Film Festival on 29 January 2018.