Fandry (noun): Derogatory slang term for “pig” in rural parts of Maharashtra.
While the masters V. Shantaram and Jabbar Patel are memories of a region’s rich cinema past, and Dada Kondke a weird and unsettling nightmare of a dark age in Maharashtra’s cinema output, Marathi cinema has since recovered into the industry with the most consistent output of quality cinema in India. There is a constant stream of evidence to suggest that Marathi cinema has become India’s pinnacle of regional filmmaking. Through a box-office standpoint, it is still strong although doesn’t hold the weight of the South film industries which peddle mindless misogynistic crap to theaters for a quick buck. From a critical standpoint, it might be the next big boom of great regional cinema after Bengal of the 50’s/60’s and Kerala of the 80’s. They are good filmmakers, they are honest in what they do, and for the most part their cinema breathes an authenticity that is at once used to swell pride for a region and its cultural history as well as criticize it.
Nagraj Manjule’s Fandry is an apt representation of how Maharashtra’s cultural history is still so prevalent in the rural communities today. From a personal standpoint, I have witnessed myself the way families and marriages and community sects conduct themselves in the rural depths of the state. What is most troubling perhaps is that while even the uppity members of community, by comparison to you and me, live a very modest and meager lifestyle but it still doesn’t stop them from displaying a sense of superiority over or contempt for those under them. That is probably the first thing you will notice Fandry… how at once, as (I’m assuming) someone who lives in a more urban or “westernized” environment, you can detect the patronizing tone with which the upper castes treat the lower castes (not with abject brutality or anything, but a slew of mocking gestures and tones) while quizzically questioning such behavior since these so ordained ‘aristocrats’ of the community still bathe via buckets of water and still wear lungis and have less-than-impressive households. The schools their children go to are no different than the lower caste ones. Such marked details from Manjule certainly would have a large sociological effect on the thought process of those Maharashtrians living in urban cities like Mumbai and Pune, if only for the fact that in their communities, the discrepancy between the upper and lower classes is blatantly obvious. The upper classes are in fact, rich. The lower classes are in fact poor. It’s then a matter of Majule sending us a signal that relationships between social classes is a matter of perspective. What we see in Fandry is a piece of history, where sophistication or advancements in industry and the quality of living are less important to social class than say, the shade of one’s skin (the main character we see is significantly darker skinned than the pale upper-caste folk) or the fact that they were born into a certain occupation.
The love story in the film is another representation of India’s greatest romantic plotline: Lower caste boy falls in love with an upper caste girl who he will never be able to get. The main character Jabya’s only pursuit out of his current situation is this forbidden love. He’s not bothered with education, aspiration, or climbing any sort of ladder economically or socially. His is a pursuit of success in love. His fears are all too real for us; being embarrassed in front of her, dealing with the mean, better looking guy who’s already ‘claimed’ her, looking poor or unkempt in front of her. This storyline exists in the film mostly for Manjule to peddle his ideas of caste culture home. The problems the boy faces in romance are really not that different from what we face, but they are justified and tolerated through an arbitrary injustice called “caste”. In a pinnacle scene in the film, Jabya is dancing on top of a friends shoulders and he looks, good, people are celebrating around him and he has a good look at the girl of his dreams who for a fleeting second, looks at him endearingly as well. Suddenly, his father comes and yanks him away, yelling him to the other side of the crowd to hold a lantern. He is brought physically back down to Earth, where he is a low caste worker… his view of the girl is now completely gone.
The retaliation against tradition is a painful road, but it is one Jabya must go through if he has any hope of attaining what he wants. Perhaps this is what Manjule sets up as the film comes to a close. Near the end, Jabya’s outburst relays to us a boiling point culminating from anger and helplessness against being put down by society since his birth, but it is never resolved. Instead, the final shot of the film is Jabya throwing a stone. What the repercussions of his rebellious act is is something we can only imagine but never truly know. If this were a Bollywood film, it would undoubtedly be a defeat of Jabya’s antagonists. Unfortunately, Manjule deals with the real world, which means our conjectures will be a muddled mix of many variables and forces. In the end, it may be a cliche to say the filmmaker leaves us to decide, but that for all intents and purposes, is the most responsible decision of the filmmaker.