Mumbai Film Festival (competing), Oct. 18, 2013
Somnath Avghade, Suraj Pawar, Kishor Kadam, Chaya Kadam
A film whose simple charm hardly prepares the viewer for the edge-of-street tension of its last fifteen minutes, Fandry is a uniquely effective attack on India’s banned but still lingering caste system. The setting is a humble village where a plucky, dark-skinned boy from a family of untouchables has a crush on a pretty classmate. Marathi poet and short filmmaker Nagraj Manjule brings lyricism along with drama and indignation to his first feature, which premiered at the London Film Festival and is India’s entry in Mumbai competition. It is well worth a look for distributors interested in top-of-the-line art films with export potential and interest for children, though the ending may be too shocking for youngsters.
Fandry means “pig”, but that definition only emerges towards the end of the film. It’s foreshadowed by the annoying presence of a family of boar-like pigs who occasionally run through the poor village where Jabya (Somnath Avghade) and his family live in a dirt-floor shack. They belong to a clan of Dalits, or untouchables, and are given the most menial jobs to perform by the villagers, who treat them with barely concealed contempt. They are the only ones, for example, who are “allowed” to touch the unclean pigs.
Jabya is a handsome, laughing young teenager who has a complex about his looks, his clothes, and of course his family. He attends school and heroically gets his homework done, despite the fact that his father is constantly sending him out to work. All these things keep him from expressing his tender feelings to Shalu, a fair-skinned girl in his class from a higher caste family. While his father escapes his problems and pent-up frustrations at the local liquor outlet, Jabya is befriended by a sympathetic local shopkeeper. He tells the boy that only by casting a spell on the girl using the ashes of a black sparrow can he conquer her love. This elusive, possibly non-existent bird becomes Jabya’s key to happiness and a poignant symbol of his struggles.
Along with tough scenes and Jabya’s teenage misery, there is the enchantment of early adolescence as he wanders through the woods with his pal in search of the black sparrow, or their successful bike trip to sell ice cream in the next town. Manjule, who honed his filmmaking skills in short films like the award-winning Pistuliya, wisely avoids hammering the audience with a sense of foreboding. In fact everything that happens in the film emerges naturally out of the story and characters. Young Avgahde is totally charming in the lead role, and his gradual rebellion against his clan and their expectations for him lead to the kick in the stomach of the final shot.
The story has a natural rhythm, but it moves forward without indulgence. In a small subplot, the father earnestly searches for dowry money to get one of his daughters married. This leads to the climactic final scenes of a pig chase through the village that brings the film’s underlying tension to a boil and a final explosion. It’s one of those rare films that really fulfills a social purpose, for it’s hard to imagine anyone watching Fandry and not abhorring the way caste is used as an excuse to degrade human beings.
Venue: Mumbai Film Festival (competing), May 18, 2013.
Production company: Navlakha Arts and Holy Basil Productions
Cast: Somnath Avghade, Suraj Pawar, Kishor Kadam, Chaya Kadam, Sakshi Vyavhare
Director: Nagraj Manjule
Screenwriter: Nagraj Manjule
Producers: Vivek Kajaria, Nilesh Navalakha
Director of photography: Vikram Amladi
Editor: Chandan Arora
No rating, 105 minutes.