Children of the Pyre

A harrowing vision of a hell on earth, not-for-the-squeamish docu "Children of the Pyre" profiles seven Indian boys who tend an ancient, sprawling, 24/7 open-air crematorium.

A harrowing vision of a hell on earth, not-for-the-squeamish docu “Children of the Pyre” profiles seven Indian boys who tend an ancient, sprawling, 24/7 open-air crematorium. Helmer Rajesh S. Jala shot for 18 months, and though the narrative momentum is scattershot, his images of children at risk are undeniably powerful. A lock for human-rights-themed fests, the pic will need gutsy cablers and a dignified homevid push to reach appropriate auds.

Manikarnika, which means “earring” in Hindi, is the oldest and largest such facility in northeastern Indian city Varanasi. On the bank of the mighty Ganges, its 14 funeral pyres on ghats, or steps, burn constantly with the bodies of loved ones brought by pilgrims. It’s the “untouchable” kids’ job to stoke fires, pluck errant limbs off the ground, elude adult fists as they scrounge for brightly colored shrouds for resale and keep traffic moving. Appalling work conditions are ameliorated by marijuana and adolescent variations on gallows humor. Pic is dedicated to the “millions of ill-fated children who never get an opportunity to have a normal childhood”; the helmer has begun a fund to raise money and awareness.

Children of the Pyre

India

Production: A the Elements production. (International sales: the Elements, New Delhi.) Produced by Rajesh S. Jala. Executive producer, Sharmishtha Mukharjee. Directed by Rajesh S. Jala.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Jala; editor, Sheetal Koul; music, Roy Menezes. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (Documentaries of the World), Aug. 26, 2008. Running time: 73 MIN.

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