“To engage people through emotions, to make them cry is also entertainment”…director Nagraj Manjule was caught confessing in an interview with a film website. A film plot whose plot revolves around the literal and metaphorical marginalization of the Dalit community, the line between activism and entertainment is too thin. But, the man at the helm of affairs demonstrates clarity of vision with unprecedented precision- Fandry is the story of Jabya (Somnath Awghade), a young school boy who is in love with Shalu (Rajeshwari Kharat) hoping that his intense feelings would find reciprocation and transcend the caste barriers that separate them. The entertainment for the audience is centered around the minutely pieced out range of emotions this young protagonist goes through- the emotion of infatuation while he squats at the cycle shop to glance his girl sweeping her porch, the emotion of anxiety when his love letter resonates as a voiceover superimposed on the images of the jatra (village fair), the emotion of hope when he dreams of romancing his lady love in the newly purchased pair of jeans and the emotion of embarrassment when he is reduced to a pitiful spectacle baiting and killing a pig while Shalu looks on with inconsiderate amusement. The entertainment quotient is kept at a constant steady throughout the cinematic course through this love-struck teenager.
What cuts this narrative as an exceptional one is the tone and shade adopted to communicate this love story. Silence and setting act as effective tools in the director’s set of armoury. There isn’t a single piece of dialogue that transpires between Jabya and Shalu and yet, the lens easily creeps into the skin of the protagonist’s viewpoint. The physical rustic setting is foregrounded by the consistent arid background and sharply contrasted with the occasional city glimpses with trucks, branded shops and artificial fish tanks. The isolation of Jabya’s mud house is further juxtaposed with the inter-connected block of houses in the upper caste areas of the village to visually determine the sharp social stratification. This starkness of the setting is reminiscent of the Majidi films that foreground human experience as conscripted by the physical and social environment of the small towns and villages. It is encouraging to see the Indian village, the most underrepresented landscape in the cinematic imagination of its citizens, find a playing field in this National award winning filmmaker.
The social and cultural repression faced by the Dalits is underscored through multiple metaphors that subtly pass on the harsh truths. Starting with fandry (pig), the title itself acts a metaphorical symbol of the ugly, the unwanted, the rejected. These, like the Dalits, are part of our ecosystem but exist unacknowledged in a naturalized artificial hierarchy of power. The metaphor is raised to its ironic best when Kachru (Kishore Kadam) and his family is paid to capture the animal and restrain it, just the manner in which his own family is restricted to the socially set boundaries and silenced for and since generations. The coveted pair of jeans that Jabya desires and the Rs. 150 worth shirt he eventually gets acts as a metaphorical distinction between modern-day schism between urban consumerism and rustic determinism. The most reiterated metaphor however, lies in the image of the black sparrow- the dark but rare creature that young Jabya identifies with the most. The obsessive insistence of hunting this particular species speaks volumes about the subliminal urge of the Dalit community to identify with and stand up for who they really are. To love and court women of the higher castes in the case of both Jabya and Chandeshwar Sathe (Nagraj Manjule) becomes the means to transgress the spatial and social determinism of their times. Even if it takes the literal and metaphorical ashes of the black sparrow to lure the bold and the beautiful, the price is considered worth it. The slingshot assumes the figurative significance of aiming high, reaching beyond the circumscribed boundaries of aspirations for the caste fated to remain low.
The moment when the restrained and subtle tone of the narrative breaks its pattern is during the last scene when there is a dramatic outburst and outpouring of Jabya’s emotions manifested with the aggressive stone-throwing. The stone hitting the screen before a blackout meets the viewer poses a direct blow to the conscience of the society that constructs and subscribes to these artificial and oppressive social boundaries. That is Manjule’s view from the bottom to reach the higher goal of humanism and equality…all through the medium of emotions and entertainment.