Fandry review: A charming film about caste, identity and young love
A charming love story set against the backdrop of a poor village in arid Maharashtra, this is a film that builds up to its final shot – destined to be iconic – with little manipulation or foreboding.
By Suprateek Chatterjee
A great film is often remembered by its final shot, as every great filmmaker from Orson Welles to Christopher Nolan has known and demonstrated only too well.
Fandry, Nagraj Manjule’s charming debut feature, follows the same recipe, certifying the National-Award-winning Marathi short filmmaker and poet as an auteur to watch out for. A charming love story set against the backdrop of a poor village in arid Maharashtra, this is a film that builds up to its final shot – destined to be iconic – with little manipulation or foreboding.
What makes Fandry a remarkable achievement is that it is an underdog film about an underdog. After all, it arrived at the 15th Mumbai Film Festival with positive-yet-restrained buzz (read: you could get into a screening without having made a reservation) and emerged triumphant, by coming second in the international competition.
Set in Akolner, a tiny village near Ahmednagar, Fandry portrays the dichotomous rural India of today, where a public toilet is a luxury but a touch-screen Android phone is almost ubiquitous. Jabya (Somnath Avghade), the film’s dark-skinned protagonist, is an awkward yet winsome teenager from a Dalit family who lives in a shack at the fringes of the village. He has a crush on Shalu, a classmate, who hails from an upper caste and therefore more well-to-do family. She is, of course, fair-skinned.
The differences in their background and colour of skin are all-important, as they are anywhere in India even today. Jabya is besotted by Shalu. He follows her around. He dreams of buying fancy clothes that are garish by more urbane standards, but aesthetically pleasing in a village where everything from clothes to surroundings are drab. He writes letters to her confessing his love for her. However, the barriers – both social and sexual – in his village are so strong that he probably wouldn’t be able to approach her even if he weren’t shy.
When Jabya isn’t daydreaming about her or at school, he’s out with his best friend trying to capture an elusive long-tailed sparrow with a slingshot. The film also tells us about his family, who eke out a living through basket-weaving and the unpleasant business of cleaning, rescuing and chasing away the many wild pigs living in the village. (Incidentally, 'fandry' means pig.) Unlike Jabya, his father Kachrya (Kishore Kadam, the only recognisable actor in the film) is worried about things that are far less trivial, such as dowry and wedding expenses for his youngest daughter.
This is as much a film about coming to terms with one’s identity as it is about young love. Jabya is uncomfortable with the social status he has inherited and is always close to some sort of breaking point, knowing that the odds aren't in his favour. When his cycle gets crushed by a callous truck driver, during an excursion selling ice-lollies in order to earn some cash, he wails as though he’s lost a limb. When his father orders him to stop dancing at the village fair (his attempt at impressing Shalu), he stands in the midst of a group of dancers, tears streaming down his cheek. The long-tailed sparrow he chases is a symbol of his desire to rise above his circumstances, not least because some amount of witchcraft with it will get him closer to Shalu, according to the local cycle-shop owner/drunk (played by Manjule himself).
What elevates Fandry over many well-meaning but bland issue-based films is the superlative acting. Each and every actor in this film – most of them non-actors – is fabulous and perfectly cast. Avghade is an irresistibly likable mixture of fiery and vulnerable; his raspy voice is indicative of his adolescence, while his occasional toothy grin is a reminder of how innocent he still is. The film also benefits from technical polish – the cinematography, background score and editing are all top-notch.
The film also stands out because of its final 15 minutes – the lone set-piece that utilises great hand-held camerawork and effective VFX, which becomes this village’s version of an IPL match. In hindsight, one realises that the story was probably written after this sequence. However, Manjule’s writing is so watertight that every occurrence in the screenplay feels natural. Ultimately,Fandry’s greatest victory is that it flows with the same languid pace one would expect of village life, despite its hardships, and, by putting the viewer in Jabya’s shoes, Manjule let you live in his world for a while.
(Suprateek Chatterjee is editor of Visual Disobedience, a community for emerging indie artists, and a freelance writer. In his spare time, he likes to compose music with his electro-rock band Vega Massive and his Twitter handle is @SupraMario.)
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