Children of the Pyre (2008)

  |  Documentary

This documentary follows the life of Seven children who are working under extreme conditions at India's busiest cremation ground, Manikarnika in Banaras.


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7 November 2009 | arvindbatra
| Moved!
I saw children of the pyre today at San Francisco Castro theater as part of South Asian film festival organized by third I group. Now a group with name like third I (aha - remembering the Spic logo) i had to watch one and Children of the pyre was an arbit selection.

Children of pyre is a story about 6 children who are working to cremate bodies in some holy village in Varnasi. The movie is an account of their work, the environment around them, why they are doing it, what do they think about it etc etc.

In the movie/book Blade runner, humans have devised a test to check whether the entity they are talking to is actually a human or an android. It is related to pupil dilation when some emotional questions were asked. The argument there was that accuracy of tests was questionable. But all they had to do was to make them watch this movie and observe reactions - only an android could not have been affected by such movie.

Children of pyre is a very well made documentary. With a subject that deals with child labour, human rights violation, cremation, poverty, drugs etc and that too it is a documentary, it is bound to be very very heavy. But the brilliance of this film comes from the 6 child actors who simplify everything for us and present their lives in such a candid manner that it is bound to make you laugh. The director's questions to these kids are also well chosen, not only he pokes around about what they think about it, he goes into their lives asking about their girlfriends, family etc. The very fact i was smiling in at least some parts in the movie is a great achievement and it makes the movie watchable otherwise it would have been too heavy for people like us not used to such harsh realities of life. Another thing that i love about this movie is the camera work. The director has been very kind in omitting many brutal scenes of cremation, there are some but i am sure it could have been worse. There is a scene in which the camera is placed on the boat and you see it go up and down as the bloat floats from one side to another. There is a scene where the kids try to perform last rites on a stranger's body. There is a scene where there is a Navratri festival going on 10 metres away where bodies are getting burnt. The contrast was unbelievable. But most importantly, it is the kids, their lives, their tales that move you to the core and ask questions that no one knows. At one point in telling answers, one of the kid says - "If you feel so sympathetic to me, just send a check of 5000 Rs every month to my home, i will stop everything. If you can not do anything then do not question my actions, leave me to my own state"

The movie ends with "Udd jayega" sung by Pt. Kumar Gandharva , written by Kabir. The song fits into the ending perfectly and makes sense.

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