Cities of Sleep is set in a world where just being able to secure a good night’s sleep often becomes a matter of life and death. Trailing the lives of two individuals, the film enters a heady world of night-shelters, improvised sleeping spots and the infamous ‘sleep mafia’ of Delhi to look at the enormous influence the otherwise banal activity of sleeping is able to exert on a large number of people.
The film follows two individuals, Shakeel and Ranjeet. Shakeel, a beggar by profession is something of a renegade sleeper who for the last seven years has slept in a diverse range of improvised sleeping places in Delhi: under flyovers, subways, deserted pipelines, vacant car garages, empty animal cages in zoos and so on. For over the last year he has been sleeping with the ‘sleep mafia’ in Meena Bazaar (a famous market area in Old Delhi): these are people who control who sleeps where, for how long and what quality of sleep can be achieved on the streets. The film starts with his struggles with Jamaal Bhai, the head of an area in which thousands of homeless sleep on rented cot-beds and blankets everyday. We track Shakeel’s struggles as nearly all places in the city where safe sleep used to be offered start scrunching up just around the time the infamous winter rains of Delhi are due.
Ranjeet lives in Loha Pul , a 200 year old double-storey iron bridge in Delhi straddling the banks of the river Yamuna. Around nine years ago, Ranjeet opened up a shanty cinema in a thin strip of the land under the bridge. These cinemas are meant to primarily provide comfortable resting/sleeping spaces for the 140-150 people who usually inhabit the area. This is a community built primarily by sleepers, homeless people who come together to sleep there everyday. Over time, this community, led by Ranjit, has improvised ways and means to meet their infrastructural and economic requirements, in the face of official disapproval from the local civic authorities. The film follows this community’s attempts to survive while also facing the annual threat of the river flooding during the monsoon season.
[director]Shaunak Sen is a filmmaker and scholar based in Delhi. He has edited various documentaries and experimental fiction/non-fiction films including ‘Squad’s Fall Guys’ (2013), ‘Old Town’ (2013), ‘T & Lily’ (2014), and is currently editing ‘The Byomkesh Archives’ produced by Dibakar Banerjee Films and Yash Raj Films.
He co-curated a live-event installation called Downtime held simultaneously at Delhi and Berlin (at the Goethe Institute in New Delhi and NeuKolln in Berlin) in November 2014. This event was co-curated by Frank Oberhauber and Amitesh Grover. He also co-curated a live performance/video installation event ‘Notes on Mourning’ at Khoj Studios in January 2015 (co-curated by Arnika Ahldag and Amitesh Grover). He will be attending the Copycat Academy Residency, curated by Hannah Hurtzig at the Luminatos Film Festival in Toronto in June 2015. He was also the recipient of the Digital and Social Media Fellowship from Sarai in 2014. A mass communication graduate of AJK MCRC Jamia Milia, New Delhi, he is currently enrolled as a PhD student at the School of Arts and Aesthetics at the Jawahar Lal Nehru University in Delhi. His academic writing has been published in various journals including Bioscope and Widescreen. He has also worked as a journalist for Tehelka and as a freelance investigative journalist for other media portals.[/director]