Chandrashekar Reddy’s “Fireflies in the abyss” is a documentary about immigrant coalminers working in the illegal mines of Lad Rymbai, in the East Jaintia Hills district of Megahlaya. It explores the working conditions of the men and boys, who risk their lives every day with just a pickaxe and a torch, scratching out coal from the hard rocks buried in the hostile, “rat-hole” pits.
The narration reveals, “The law turns a blind eye to everything,a and hence how the hills and humans are exploited. But this documentary is not about exploitation. It’s about the human need for survival. It portrays the sad, melancholic, yet pragmatic outlook of the miner’s lives.
Reddy tells his story through the lives of; a young Nepali boy Suraj, an Assamese youth Nishant, Subba- an older miner who had earlier worked as a driver in the army and was a part time actor. The other talking heads are; Raj and Tara a young Nepali couple who run a community kitchen for singles, Bahadur a mine-manager, Arun – Nishant’s work partner, Baje from Nagaland who works as a “Book Keeper or Master of carts”, Babu and Kalu – two friends who encourage Suraj to go to school. (ALSO READ: Independence Day: Resurgence movie review : Staid and worn out sequel!)
The narrative is crisp and engaging, capturing the community life concisely. Drinking, gambling and playing cards is all the entertainment they have. “You don’t gamble to win, you gamble to play the next day,” reveals one of them.
Each voice, has a reason, a dream and a hope. There is no emotional, spiritual or intellectual stimulation for the miners, who reveal their plight-filled circumstances and the brutal choices they are forced to dodge at every turn of their lives. They are both, victim of their circumstances and product of their compliances. Some linger on to the rocks while others return to their roots.
But, what stays back, with the viewer, are the haunting visuals of the terrain and of the lives of the people who toil there, which are splendidly captured by Reddy, Arwat Challam and Nishant Rai.
The frames are modest and unassuming, but they capture the harshness of the community and the equally barren opportunities that grow within it. The dark pits where the men and kids crawl are not only disturbing and depressing, but also astonishing. What elevates the viewing experience is the ambience sound captured by Gissy Michael, Music by Cooper-Moore and the few old hindi numbers that are used as the background score, which are dexterously layered by Editor Abhro Banerjee and Reddy.
The title, “Fireflies in the Abyss” befits the subject aptly and overall, while you ponder as to what happened Suraj’s one eye, the film is worth a watch.