National Award-winning documentary filmmaker Chandrasekhar Reddy says that his job is to project problems, not solve them himself.
Fireflies in the Abyss, a documentary on an 11-year-old boy who has to worm through mining holes, recently won the National Film Award. Its filmmaker, Chandrasekhar Reddy, often gets asked what happened to Suraj, the protagonist.
For, it is hard to forget the image of this boy — despite his boyish grin, somersaults and cheer. In the concluding shot, the film revisits the boy and one sees he has grown quieter.
Speaking to us over the phone, Reddy says he last saw him a year ago, and spoke to him in November. Contacting the boy is next to impossible as he keeps moving from one place to another, keeps changing his phone numbers. “I can speak to him only when he calls me,” says Reddy.
That November, the film was adjudged the best documentary at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala. It has been screened in various international festivals like Busan International Film Festival, Mumbai International Film Festival and International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.
There is another question that Reddy often encounters. “What are you doing for the people in the film?” Perhaps because the question is asked often, when we asked him if he felt responsible to his subject, he did not have to think for an answer. “I wouldn’t take on the burden of that responsibility on to myself. Why don’t people who make fictional films get asked this question? It is unfair to lay that responsibility on a filmmaker,” he says.
He says, “For the longest time, filmmakers have struggled under the burden of this. I was very well aware of this pressure. I was clear from the beginning about my responsibility as a filmmaker. The film is telling an important story, of real people of Meghalaya’s Jaintia Hills. It has brought to the world’s attention to a situation which most people could not relate to in the way they are able to relate to after watching the film. Now, people know Suraj as a person, not a statistics of child labour. I think that is where the responsibility of the filmmaker lies.”
The film had a theatrical release, because Reddy was sure that there was an audience for documentaries. It continues to have small screenings. It is also available on Netflix, BFI player in the UK, and as a video-on-demand on its website. “If someone watches Fireflies... on their cell phone, I would still think of it as an engagement. I have no qualms about it. Still I think you will enjoy the film more, if you do see it on the big screen,” he says.