In some places being considered “untouchable” is a sign of elite status, this is not the case in India though. Being part of the “untouchable” caste is a fate worse than death for some individuals. This is especially true for Jabya (Somnath Awghade) and his family in Nagraj Manjule’s heart-wrenching feature debut, Fandry. Coming from an impoverished family, Jabya is dying to get a new pair of jeans in hopes of impressing Shalu (Rajeshwari Kharat), a classmate from a higher caste who is he is infatuated with. To increase his chances of wooing Shalu, the determined young lad spends his free time with his friend Piraji (Suraj Pawar) hunting a black sparrow, whose ashes are rumored to have the power of hypnosis, and selling ice pops on the street to gain extra money towards his goal.
Unfortunately for Jabya, despite his best efforts, he is unable to escape the humiliation that his family’s social standing has brought. Along with being called “blacky” by a school bully, Jabya struggles with the fact that his father Kachru (Kishore Kadam) is often tasked with taking jobs that others in the town find too demeaning to do themselves. One of these tasks includes capturing Fandry, a pig whose mere contact with humans is viewed as shameful. The few remaining specs of dignity his father tries to hold on to goes out the window once Kachru must come up with a dowry for his daughter’s (Aishwarya Shinde) pending nuptials.
As the pressure for the family to stay afloat becomes too great, and with locals constantly casting their disdainful gaze, the only one who seems to see Jabya as a person is Chankeshwar (Nagraj Manjule). A bike repairman, who may or may not have ties to shady individuals, Chankeshwar sees potential in Jabya, but also knows the hardships that come with those who are of the lower caste.
Fandry is one of those films whose beauty is found in its misery. Though it may appear to be a tender boy meets girl coming-of-age tale on the surface, Nagraj Manjule crafts a scathing and emotionally raw social commentary about India’s caste system. Slowly piling on the hardship that Jabya and his family must endure, the film is unrelenting in the level of sorrow it evokes. Similar to the pig that becomes a key focal point in the last act, Jabya is constantly reminded by others that he is nothing more than a filthy animal. His quest to keep up with his school work is practically viewed as a futile venture by his family. They have become so accepting of their fate that Jabya’s youthful ambition seems almost foreign.
Taking a slow and nuanced approach to the film’s pacing, it can be viewed that Manjule lets his film simmer longer than it needs to. However, the patience the director shows is rewarded in the film’s powerful and heart-breaking ending. The brilliant thing about the films construction is that it not only evokes sympathy for Jabya as his father chastises him in plain view of his classmates, but also for the father as well. While others view Kachru as nothing more than a court jester of sorts, Manjule shows how the man’s blind desire to provide for this family has ruined everything he actually holds dear. For all his faults Kacaru is not the villain that his sons sees him as, but rather a product of an unjust system that has randomly deemed which individuals are worthy and which are not.
Fandry serves as an emotional reminder of the societal abuse that still takes place today in India. Holding a mirror up to the dark side of humanity that the caste system breeds, Fandry is a film that may seem simple on the surfaces but packs a punch you will not soon forget.
Tonight, 8:30 PM, AGO Jackman Hall