Invisible Demons, a documentary on the abnormally high pollution levels in Delhi, reveals neither the roots of the problem nor offers any tangible solutions. Rather, Rahul Jain’s film – now showing on MUBI – serves up a sensory experience, detailing Delhi’s nightmare on the ground and from high up in the sky.

Right from its opening sequence, in which a garden is enveloped by fumes emanating from a pesticide spraying machine, Invisible Demons sets itself up as a visual essay of a dystopia that is already underway. Drone shots reveal Delhi’s vehicular density, the sprawl of housing complexes and mountainous garbage landfills. On the streets, citizens grapple with poisonous air, unseasonal rain, and other effects of a crisis that they cannot even begin to comprehend, let alone analyse.

Jain made his debut in 2016 with the visually striking documentary Machines, which captured the workplace rhythms of a textile mill in Gujarat. Invisible Demons doesn’t have the deft interweave between images and information that characterised Machines. The new documentary is more loosely structured, depending heavily on a voiceover by Jain, interviews and NDTV television reports to connect its grimly poetic montages.

The interviews reveal fatalism, best expressed by a boatman navigating his vessel past toxic foam on the Yamuna river: the seasons are not following a schedule anymore, the gods have changed and so have we humans.

Jain’s own commentary contains a dubious return-to-nature prescription. If you ignore the maddeningly vague explanatory portions and focus purely on the stellar efforts of cinematographers Saumyananda Sahi, Rodrigo Trejo Villaneuva and Tuomo Hutri, Invisible Demons achieves what it sets out to do: to create a 70-minute snapshot of a problem that plagues Delhi but is by no means restricted to the national capital.

Invisible Demons (2021).

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Documentary ‘Machines’ explores the drudgery of industrial labour in a Gujarat factory