'Fireflies In The Abyss': A moving saga of minor coal miner

Mumbai: "Fireflies In The Abyss", a documentary on the lives of illegal coal miners in an impoverish hill town of Jaintia Hills of northeast India, moves you to tears. And it's not because the protagonist is an impoverished minor grappling with the unspeakably tough life of a miner in a wretched coal town, but for its sheer grit and absence of sentimentality and melodrama in portraying young lives that are so much on the fringes that they threaten to disappear over the precipice into the abyss that director Chandrasekhar Reddy so poetically describes in the film’s title. The emotional outbursts are strictly out of bounds, even when the little protagonist talks about his alchoholic father and the debts that the family must bear. There are no tears of recrimination. Reddy isn’t here to play the blame game. He would rather spend the duration of his narration showing Suraj grappling with his destiny to emerge a true hero. If only the narrative had displayed some frugality in flaunting the footage that runs on much longer than necessary often to capture the deprived lives in repetitive routine actions. With some tighter editing and less space for rumination, this feature-length docu would hold our interests with far more effortlessness. Nonetheless, the length never takes away from breadth of the basic tenet tenor and the tone of unassuming compassion. The director’s brave and remarkable documentation of life in the pits (literally) is never bleak or self-pitying. Though his protagonist Suraj (a kind of solidified mountainside version of the melted down street boy in Mira Nair’s "Salaam Bombay") has little to hope for, he nevertheless displays an attitude of positivity that invites optimism. Rightfully, the documentary designates the major part of the footage to Suraj and his family life. Though there are other lives that the director touches, it is Suraj we follow from the easy breathing spaces of the unspoilt northeastern countryside to the claustrophobic pits. When he descends into the ‘rat hole’, we get the most evocative metaphor of lives of the fringe people whom we frequently ignore because we have no solution to their poverty-stricken existence. "Fireflies In The Abyss" tells us why we can’t turn away from young, impressionable, vulnerable and seemingly doomed lives such as that of Suraj, and why children from economically challenged backgrounds need to be pulled out of the pits and put into classrooms. This is an important document of our times chronicling a reality that we like to sweep away from sight, unless a Salman Khan chooses to be human by posing with slum kids.