Fireflies in the Abyss: A moving descent into darkness | movie reviews | Hindustan Times
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Fireflies in the Abyss: A moving descent into darkness

If you are looking for a cheerful or uplifting movie experience, this isn’t it. But Chandrasekhar Reddy’s documentary on India’s illegal coal mines effectively takes you into a world few of us know

movie reviews Updated: Jul 01, 2016 19:15 IST
Anupama Chopra
Fireflies in the Abyss is haunting, even though it does run a bit long, at 88 minutes.
Fireflies in the Abyss is haunting, even though it does run a bit long, at 88 minutes.

FIREFLIES IN THE ABYSS (Documentary)

Direction: Chandrasekhar Reddy

Rating: ***

Fireflies in the Abyss is a documentary about desperately wretched lives. In illegal mines in north-east India, men and boys drop into sliver-sized openings in mountains to dig out coal, each armed with just a head torch and a pickaxe. There is no safety equipment, no medical services. When a rat bites, they smile. When someone dies, they shrug. Many are Nepali immigrants. At least a few have been here so long that families have been forgotten. Their home is a hell that is bleak and literally black. At one point, a character laughs and says that when he first came he couldn’t recognise people from his own village because their faces were so covered in coal dust.

At one point, the camera travels into a mine. The space is so suffocating that it’s impossible to imagine that human beings spend entire days there.

This is a world that few of us know. Director Chandrasekhar Reddy deep-dives into it – once again, literally. At one point, the camera travels into a mine. The space is so suffocating that it’s impossible to imagine that human beings spend entire days there. And in this heart of darkness there lives a smiling 11-year-old boy named Suraj, who only wants an education and a few friends. But he is saddled with an alcoholic father and a kindly sister who is too impoverished to nurture his dreams. In one scene, Suraj tells us: ‘A for all, B for ball, C for coal’.

Read:Another documentary follows a modern-day gold miner into LA’s mountains

If you are looking for a cheerful or uplifting movie experience, this isn’t it. But Chandrasekhar’s camera humanizes what otherwise would have been a banal headline. We get to know these people. We start to care about them – especially Suraj. What works against the film is its length; at 88 minutes, it feels unnecessarily stretched. And the voiceover that explains the characters, their relationships and movements is clunky.

But hours after the film, I found myself thinking about Suraj. Which is a victory.