Helplessness is to know that there is injustice and not be able to do anything about it. A much bigger pain and restlessness comes from being a teenager who is bearing the brunt of the injustice and not be taken seriously by society at large, but mostly by people who are your own. The message smacks you in the face with the way the movie ends. And you will agree with the “smacks you in the face” part of the last statement if you watch the movie. The entire film has such a light, seemingly funny note, that it doesn’t prepare you for the gritty strength of the last shot. Director Nagraj Popatrao Manjule makes his film extremely memorable with an ending that defines his first feature film.
Fandry is a village story. Make that, an Indian story. Or wait. Going by the instances of discriminatory violence all over the world, it is a human story. It is the story where a human being is likened to an animal, and treated like animal. In the Indian village you see the average person exercising his prejudice unabashedly, without fear of being judged, for even the lowest caste expects it and doesn’t want to change the status quo for fear of what challenges his non-acceptance will bring about.
Jambya (Somnath Awghade) is a shy, adolescent boy in love with the prettiest girl in his class, Shalu. But as standard Indian-cinema extremes would go, Jambya is the son of the lowest-caste man of the village (the only professional actor in this crew, Kishor Kadam), who does all the dirty jobs so that the higher castes may live “clean” – one of those higher castes being Jambya’s love. This love story and the boy’s denial of his “inferiority” is what forms the crux of Fandry. And as clichéd and heavy-handed it sounds, it is a tale smartly told; it makes you smile and leaves you introspecting.
Think of the number of times, when as a child, your choices and your wants were kept in abeyance, because there was always something else that was more important. If you tried to get your work done yourself, you were still not taken seriously. Allegiance to the family was always more important than being seen trying to step out of boundaries drawn by society. Your heart breaks when you see Jambya standing with a gas lamp on his head while the entire village is dancing at the village fair. He is a low-caste boy. He is meant to be a tool only. That he wants to dance to impress Shalu is of no consequence to anyone
Or the time when Jambya is out to sell ice lollies with his best friend Pirya to earn some extra cash to buy himself a pair of jeans (all the boys in his school, except him, wear jeans), and when he takes a short break, his bicycle is unknowingly run over by a truck. The black sparrow, which can help him cast a love spell on Shalu, is as elusive as the equal status he seeks for himself. He refuses to pick out a pig from a small tank because he does not want to be seen doing these menial jobs in front of his schoolmates, least of all, Shalu. Rather than encourage his willingness to study and do well for himself, Jambya’s family expects him to help with these chores around the village – cleaning drains, catching and killing pigs (considered untouchable by the higher castes), serving tea at village gatherings where everyone, but they, have a say – and reprimand him every time he plays truant. Jambya does a lot to fit in, including applying chalk powder on his face to appear fairer, but he is always known as the “untouchable’s son”.
The relationship that Jambya shares with his best friend Pirya is priceless. They show unquestioning support in things that sound insane, are comfortable walking long stretches together in silence, sings songs to pull each others’ leg, pee together, and basically show a love for each other that trumps the kind of silly Gunday brand of bromance any given day. Their loyalty towards each other is unshakeable. It reminds you of your first best friend in school, who’d glad share his or her most prized possession with you without the slightest hesitation.
“Fandry” is slang for “pig”. It is interesting to note that in the scene where Jambya’s family is trying to catch the stray pigs of the village to earn enough money to give as dowry for Jambya’s sister’s marriage, there is just this one pig that leaves all of them breathless and creates a spectacle for the entire village (as does Jambya with the erst of his family). The villagers who own touch-screen phones and have accounts on Facebook have no toilets at home. The students are being taught about equality in the classroom while the fair, rich, upper class boy is bullying a poor, dark, Jambya for stealing glances at Shalu. Chankya (Nagraj Manjule), the man who everyone believes is an oddball, cares nothing about the caste based discrimination in the village. That makes him as good as an outcast. There are several dichotomies the director presents to show how juxtaposed we are as a nation and how shallow most of our priorities are. Ingrained prejudices run deeper than principles preached in school and colleges.
I watched a night show in a theatre full of young Maharashtrian men. I was quite enjoying it to hear the parts they loved, the bits that made them go “ooooh”, “aaah”, “hahaha” and hoot. It was interesting to see how much more they understood the film, coming from a similar background where they are discriminated against, rather than the educated, smart, urban moviegoer who only wears brands and watches movies in a multiplex with a bucket of popcorn that costs more than what some people in the villages earn in a day. It was a great experience. It was the power of cinema on full display. And no, it didn’t bother me unlike the times people next to me in a theatre sat sending text messages, talking on their phones or making mockery of a good film because it was not a Dhoom 3 or a Rowdy Rathore.
For people who like cinema, Fandry must go up on their list of films to watch. It is a fine piece of work, with great acting, and leaves you with food for thought, while rekindling some sweet memories. The cinematography is beautiful and the editing seamless. The actors look like seasoned veterans despite being complete amateurs. The background score is lilting and makes you want to hop, skip and jump about in the woods. It is out in theatres with subtitles. Don’t skip it by calling it a regional film you won’t understand. It’s ability to cross the language barrier with its visuals is outstanding. You won’t come out of the theatre dissatisfied.