'Fireflies in the Abyss'
Director: Chandrasekhar Reddy
Cast: Nishant Rai, Raj Rai, Suraj Subbha
An explorative documentary on incidents of child labor in the illegal coal mines located in the Jainthia Hills of Meghalaya, one of the seven sisters of North East India, this MIFF 2016 best documentary feature winner speaks quite eloquently of the tragedy that’s happening deep down in the burrows within the hill country of the ‘Abode of Clouds’.
As the dawn breaks, young men and boys armed with nothing more than a pickaxe and head-torch descend into the deep recesses of the rat-holes excavated out of hard rock, to scratch their innards for coal. There’s just a faint light leading the mine workers to their destination deep into the ground. And as they crawl into the recesses of the earth the light dims and darkness descends - yet the fearless excavators trundle forth, accumulating basket loads of coal that are carried across mountains to a depot from where the coal is then transferred to various destinations across the state and country.
Watch the trailer of 'Fireflies in the Abyss'
The boys are not even into their teens, yet they have lead a hardy life far away from their home country and are denied the uncorrupted pleasures of childhood. Their dreams have been curtailed, livelihood and taking care of their families become the reason for their risky existence. They know that anything can happen down there and are prepared to face that eventuality with a strong heart and even braver resolve. Director, writer and cameraman Reddy’s lens hones in on the one faint light of hope, 11-year-old Suraj, who while resigned to earning his bread from within the harsh confines of a byzantine abyss, is also free spirited enough to break out from existential pressures and follow a much more regulated path to accumulating self worth. As one-by-one, his friends and family, depart to their homely retreats, Suraj embarks on his own individual journey – which comes to the fore only towards the end credits of this fascinating and totally involving documentary. In pursuing Suraj’s learning curve, Chandrasekhar Reddy’s documentary hopes to lay stress on giving children the benefit of an education instead of throttling them in an unending swirl of existential materialism. The subjects here are victims of circumstance but also not in any hurry to break out from it. Suraj is the only one to show the strongest desire to escape. Like he says, wistfully at that, “ What will I do going back to Nepal? I wasn’t born there and don’t have any friends there either. All my friends are here.”
The film is dark no doubt but there’s a glimmer of hope there too.
Reddy’s film is neither showy nor fanciful in its depiction of the hard grueling life a miner leads. It is simple, heartfelt and completely involving with breathtaking camerawork (lit largely by torch lights) and involving nuggets of information carved out from the lives of those little brave hearts who think nothing about doing a grown man’s job.