Fandry has been on my wishlist for way too long. My friend Advait Kamat gave it a glowing recommendation. I found the premise interesting and wanted to see how elements of casteism and love would play out in the film. However, there was one major barrier : Marathi. I grew up in Mumbai and even earnt Marathi till 8th grade but I am hardly proficient in it. In fact whenever somebody attempts to initiate a full blown conversation in the language, I usually interrupt them with the only sentence in Marathi I can speak without a hitch : Mala Marathi yet nai (I don’s know Marathi). I broke this barrier for the first time early this year when I sauntered into my nearest cinema hall to catch a show of Natasamrat, although only after confirming that the print had english subtitles. I loved the film and made a mental note to try and catch up on the gems of Marathi cinema. Next on my list was Nagraj Manjule acclaimed debut : Fandry.
Fandry is a story, at least on the surface, of the innocent love of a young thirteen year old boy. One of my favourite books growing up was My Girl, which was later made into a movie starring Macaulay Culkin. Bittersweet and ultimately devastating, the story moved me, even as a child and has stayed with ever since. There is something about a young boy falling in love that makes for a great story. The unapologetic shy glances, an unabashed and unadulterated liking for someone, punctuated with frequent dreams of togetherness – it a time everyone can relate to, a feeling that resonates with all of us. That is why it always a sensitive subject, an immature treatment of which can come off as campy and leave a bad taste in your mouth. Fandry is Manjule debut feature film, but so assured is his direction that you might mistake him for a veteran. Manjule treats the romance at the heart of the film with such subtlety and simplicity that before you know it you have an impish smile on your face. But Manjule doesn’t want you to leave with a smile. He wants to taunt you, dare you to think, rethink and ultimately question your beliefs. Ha! You thought that this was a feel good romance, a triumph of true love set in a small village? Why would he call the film Fandry then?
The movie is centered around Jabya, a boy residing on the fringes of a small village in Maharashtra. Jabya attends the village school and is besotted by Shalu. But Jabya is dark skinned and Shalu fair. Worse, Jabya comes from a family of untouchables and Shalu is a born into an upper class family. One might think that such tags are hardly attached to children and rarely leave an imprint on a child’s mind and upbringing. A child is devoid of such identities and can freely pursue his dreams till age and vagaries of reality catch up with him. But far from city pockets where homogenization erases such identities and people like you and me are either oblivious to the truth or privileged to be away from it, are India rural villages. Here, caste is woven into the very fabric of social structure. It part of daily discourse and is hence marked on every child from his very birth. You are born to a higher caste which guarantees you certain privileges. It not called 榰pper caste for nothing. If by God misgiving you are born into a family of untouchables your fate is sealed and you are forever resigned to menial tasks deemed unworthy of the upper castes, in this case it includes getting rid of feral pigs. Jabya is conscious of his caste, his being a Dalit. Yet, he loves Shalu and love shouldn’t know any caste should it? He writes letters for her, declaring that his love is pure and he can sacrifice his very life for her. But his feet are grounded, evidenced by his letter in which he writes – know I am poor and not from your caste. Jabya is convinced by a local drunkard (played by Manjule) that if he can catch a black sparrow, burn it and sprinkle the ashes on a girl, the girl will fall in love with him. And so, midst trips selling ice lollies in a nearby town and between work, Jabya and his school friend Pirya chase the elusive black sparrow. Between Jabya stealing glances at Shalu we are shown the state of affairs in his family, ridden by poverty and unemployment and forced to take up whatever work the village upper caste throw towards them. Jabya however is not without some pride. He refuses to pick up a pig from a gutter near Shalu house, embarrassed that it will drive home his caste. His mother working near school and visiting him vexes him and he forbids her from doing it again. He is constantly nagging his mother to buy him a pair of jeans and he even indulges in some wild festive dance in hope that Shalu catches a glimpse and is impressed. But deep inside, his only hope is the black sparrow which escapes his grasp, not once but multiple times, only falling prey to his slingshot in his dream.
Burdened by the impending dowry payment for his daughter Jabya father takes up a leansing job near Jabya school. A sounder of wild pigs, one garrish CGI one in particular, settle down near the school playground and Jabya family are hired to hunt and kill the pig(s). Much to Jabya chagrin it is a school day which means that he will not only have to skip school but endure being watched by his classmates doing a job that they deem beneath them. As his family of four run after the pig, often missing comically, Jabya hides behind a wall, far from school crowd that assembled post the end of session. His father, all of him and his aching knee joints, however, drags him out in full view of the crowd forcing him to participate in the task, which for his family meant two square meals, and for the crowd gathered outside – near IPL like entertainment. When they do finally manage to set up a snare trap for the pig and hoist him up on a stick to carry away, a group of men taunt them, referring to them as 楩andry. Up until then I hadn’s bothered to check the meaning of the word, even thinking that it had a nice ring to it. Fandry literally means ig. An already emotional Jabya tips over and throws stones at the men. This act culminates into a violent tirade ending with Jabya throwing a rock at the camera, at us.
Let talk about the ending first shall we? Throughout the film Jabya is shown to be a pragmatic young boy, who recognizes his limits but is yet not fully curtailed by it, much unlike his father. His father who has borne years of oppression singularly directed at their family, being the only Dalit family, has become almost submissive to the prevalent social segregation. He doesn’t want to fight against the system, doesn’s recognize how the villagers are effectively abandoning base humanity. Jabya meanwhile almost finds solace in his affection for Shalu. His affection, that magical feeling of falling in love for the first time insulates him from being ostracized. In his perfect world, he finds the black sparrow, Shalu is hypnotically in love with him and they walk hand in hand, happily towards the sunset. That dream however is shattered, when after he catches the pig he allows himself one glance towards the crowd, only to see Shalu laughing at what he assumes is his plight. In that once glance he realizes how hopeless his pursuit of love is. At the beginning of the film he is shown to acknowledge the caste bridge between him and Shalu. In that once glance the bridge collapses to reveal an endless chasm. The calls of 楩andry were simply the tipping point, as Jabya hurls the final rock at us, right at our face. This final shot, almost Nolanesque in shock value is gut wrenching to say the least. The director leaves us with a fleeting moment before the credits begin to roll in. In that fleeting moment you can’s help but think – ho is the Fandry? /p>
Manjule is a talent you absolutely have to watch out for. His next film Sairat has opened to massive critical acclaim and a healthy box office haul. He helms the role of the director with rare maturity, infusing the film with the sort of gritty realism that is glaringly lacking in most of mainstream Indian cinema. In a recent interview he says – hey say love is blind, it doesn’s see caste. But the question of caste always creeps in. It isn’t so easy to fall in love in India without the spectre of caste looming large. Caste is the foundation of our society. It a reality that you need to have a special talent to avoid. Bollywood has that talent, I don’s ︹€?It is near impossible to guess he is a first time director, such is his nuanced and meticulous approach to directing. At it heart Fandry is a simple story with elements that by and large you might find scattered in other films. What makes the film unique and powerful is the story treatment. I don’s know of a single director in Indian cinema who would dare to end a movie on a cut as this, as an ultimate reminder of who the real perpetrators of casteism really are. The film is rife with symbolism that is never jarring and would probably even escape first viewing. In one scene a pig is shown ramming into a schoolgirl, rendering her temporarily 榰ntouchable The scene takes place right in front of a wall painting of B.R. Ambedkar. The director comes back to the same wall in one of the last scenes in the film as Jabya and his family carry the pig walking in front of the wall, even slightly pausing in front of the painting of Gadge Maharaj – a noted social reformer. In an early scene the school teacher even teaches them a poem written by a lower caste poet, Sant Chokhamela, the title of which loosely translates to – ll is not what it seems. The black sparrow is beautifully used as a symbol for Jabya struggles. One such sparrow even appears when he is hiding from his family, only to flutter away yet again. Jabya & Shalu are never shown in the same frame with Jabya either appearing out of focus in the background or in the previous or next frame, almost highlighting the impossible nature of their union. Only once are we treated to a gaudy yellow T-Shirt and Jeans clothed Jabya walking hand in hand with Shalu. That is a dream sequence, one from which Jabya quickly snaps out of. This is truly brilliant filmmaking. I bet you will be hard pressed to find such quality in any usual Friday offering.
The acting all around is spot on. A special shout out to Suraj Pawar as Jabya friend Pirya. He is wonderfully cast as Jabya ever supportive friend and Pawar performance is beyond his age. But Fandry the film would not have its emotional whammy or it power without Somnath Awghade portrayal of Jabya. Somnath won a well deserved National award for his performance which was so good that it leaves you with a daze after the film. If you couldn’s shake off the film from your mind even after a couple of days of watching it, you have his incredible performance to blame. His eyes bear a unique cocktail of pain, hope and happiness. His range is so good that even in scenes without dialogue you are drawn to his face. Much has been said about the film’s climatic scene. Here Jabya arc of humiliation, despair, realization and ultimate violence is a challenge that even seasoned actors would falter at. Not only does Somnath shine but he does so in a way that looks effortless on screen. My favourite scene however is one where Jabya breaks into dance, basking in festivity, only to be shut down and made into a human light lamp for others to revel around him. He doesn’s say a word but a river of tears runs down his face. It’s a devastating scene, so beautifully acted that it hits you, in the head and heart. Not many child actor performances come to mind that could match up to the sheer brilliance of Somnath’s adaption of Jabya. Hell, not many adult performances come to mind that bear resemblance to this towering performance. He carries the movie, elevates it and brings it to a sense of raw honesty that is admirable and mighty impressive.
The film also benefits from being technically sound. I cannot comment on the dialogues and writing but the overall production design is excellent. The cinematography effectively captures the village setting, using a simple visual style that does not divert the audience attention from the story and message at hand. Midst all the technical success however Aloknanda Dasgupta rousing background score is a standout. Playful at times and heartbreaking next, it is the kind of score that you remember even after the movie. Kudos!
Fandry is the kind of movie that comes very rarely and must hence be treasured. It is a simple story told with a deft touch. Never patronizing, it engages the viewer to the extent that post the ending you leave the cinema hall not with a smile, or a pensive frown but a overbearing feeling of guilt. I can’t remember the last time a movie made me feel like that, but if I had to jog my memory and pull out a name I would say Tim Robbin Dead Man Walking. As a worthy indictment of the crippling casteism prevalent in society today, Fandry is a intense, searing piece of cinema. And, within all that anger lies a forceful marriage of love and caste. Fandry doesn’t pander to the audience wanting an happy ending where the girl and the boy fall in love and the issue of caste is lost in a kaleidoscope of cartoon hearts. That picture is amply provided by your usual Bollywood fare. Instead, Fandry is content with trading cinematic grandiose for a harsher reality. A constructed ilmy ending will hardly even stay with you because your brain, though tricked momentarily, knows what you are seeing on screen is a figment of a screenwriter’s imagination run wild and not a picture of reality. Why Fandry ending hits you so hard is because it less a page from a script and more a mirror. That is the true genius of Fandry. Watch it. Please. It as important, and as great a film as will ever be made.