The Marathi film ‘Fandry’ is a searing story of the pig-catchers.
The Marathi film Fandry shows you aspirational India’s dark underbelly. You go to watch this much discussed film only to realise it’s not a film in the format you are used to. The outpouring of adolescent Jabya’s emotions, suppressed by his cruelly compelling socio-economic realities, does all the talking. Writer-director Nagraj Manjule’s maiden feature film on a pig-catcher’s family awakens you from your dreamy “shining India” or all-is-well “Bharat Nirman” slumber.
So hopelessly abject is the poverty dogging Kachru Mane’s family, and so low his social status, that he has only contempt for his son Jabya’s desire to regularly attend school. And Jabya’s world of desires transcends education. He aspires for what is legitimately his as a human being — love for an upper caste and rich classmate, Shalu. Even as he tries to get close to her, he gets pushed around by an upper caste boy.
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His only hope is an elusive black sparrow, in search of which he wanders, on the advice of a compassionate cycle-for-hire shop owner. His friend tells him that if he kills and burns one, its ash could do the trick on Shalu, if sprinkled on her. Until he catches the sparrow, Jabya must not be seen as a pig-catcher by his beloved — he knows the very touch of a pig enforces a fresh bath on upper-caste puritans. He aspires to a pair of jeans to be able to impress Shalu, and even sells “Pepsi” tubes in the nearby big town to earn money to buy one.
Then, a pig called “Fandry” goes mad, bites people and desecrates a religious procession. Kachru gets orders to catch it. He takes his wife, two daughters and Jabya on the mission. The chase is watched and mocked by villagers, including Shalu. Humiliated, Jabya suddenly turns violent and stones a group of mocking youths away. Hurt, the group leader charges back at Jabya, who throws a huge boulder at him. It actually appears to hit the screen, and — in a virtual effect — you. The screen goes black with a thud to end the film.
Manjule has the right to use such symbolism to end the film. As he has said in interviews, he himself suffered social stigma as a backward-caste student with an “embarrassing” name. He has mentioned how he tried to skip the Marathi class to avoid a lesson in which a character in a story is referred to as a kala wadaar (dark- skinned, low-caste wadaar man). This was to avoid curious glances at him when the teacher would explain it. As luck would have it, the story was taken up when he went back to school after skipping the class. He can’t forget the laugh fellow students had at his expense when that part came up.
Fandry isn’t a teenage love story per se. It is Manjule’s — or the Manjules’ — response to society’s mockery of the dark-skinned and the low caste, the combination of racism and casteism. Manjule doesn’t use the liberalisation-globalisation narrative to tell his story of stillborn aspirations. He only states that socio-economic disparities have existed in the worst possible way, with or without the so-called economic upturn.
The film also has outstanding performances by village boy-turned-actor Somnath Awghade (Jabya) and Kishore Kadam (Kachru). This should go down as one of Kadam’s best performances. Manjule himself acts as Jabya’s cycle shop friend. His compassion for Jabya is born out of his own experiences as a boy on the margins, and depicts the pathos over generations. But even as the film exposes the pains of a section of society, Manjule himself stands out as its shining product — a backward-class boy fighting caste prejudice makes a potential Oscar entry. What hits you, however, is that the likes of Manjule are still exceptions in the rural backyard of “inspirational” India.