Nothing explains the effect that Nagraj Manjule’s Marathi film Fandry had on the audience more than their reaction when the stone that the protagonist Jabya throws at an upper-class miscreant zooms in and fills up the screen in the climax. The crowd had their heads thrown backwards, as if the stone had hit them, right on their faces.

Fandry uncovers India’s caste system in all its ugliness, but in a way which is unlike any previous cinematic takes on the issue. Missing are the long-winded dialogues, the slogans and the sometimes tiresome feel of the “activist” films. Instead, the lyrical story pulls you in, hits you hard and leaves you shattered and angry.

Love story

Fandry tells the story of Jabya (Somnath Avghade), a Dalit boy who falls in love with his classmate Shalu, who is from an upper class family. His own family survives doing menial jobs such as basket weaving and is the only “untouchable” family in their village. The other families order them around and they are the only ones who are supposed to catch the pigs which have been creating some trouble in the village.

Caste is so ingrained in their lives that the family sees itself as inferior to others and tries to make Jabya believe so.

Even when he tries to break the ranks and question the authority of the upper class, it is his father who reminds him of his place.

Amid all that, Jabya studies better than most others in his class, dreams of buying jeans to impress his girl and sells ice lollies on a cycle with his friend. He pursues a black sparrow, the ashes of which he believes can help him win her love.

Striking act

The use of juxtaposed imagery and sounds is striking throughout the film. One of the best is towards the end, when the family walks with a dead pig on their shoulders with photographs of Ambedkar and other social reformers peering at them from the background wall. Another powerful sequence has Jabya standing in attention to the National Anthem from the nearby school, right in the middle of a pig hunt. The tribe for whom patriotism is an excuse to deny all the negatives about their country never got a better slap.

Nagraj Manjule, who scripted and directed the film, perhaps channelled all the angst from his own younger days in a similar village. Fandry is easily one of the best films at this year’s International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) here.

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