There's something about the opening scene – the bucolic landscape and the lively music and the eagerness on the face of the dark, adolescent boy chasing a long-tailed black sparrow with a boomerang – that draws one right into Fandry. The title of the film is the Marathi word for 'pig'. The significance of the title comes into play every now and again, but most of all in the last twenty minutes of the film, when something that seems rather droll becomes suddenly ominous.
Nagraj Manjule has crafted a superb film that touches upon several issues without laying it on too thick on any of them. Central to the plot is young Jabya's crush on his classmate Shalu. The two study in Class 7 in a government school in Akolner village of Maharashtra. Jabya's ploys to attract Shalu's attention, and the intensity of his emotion as he tries to put his feelings into words, sweep us back into our own pasts. Remember those adolescent crushes, when it seemed you could be completely happy with that one fellow-teenager, weathering all storms life was likely to throw your way? When everything seemed within reach, and the word 'love' was devoid of all cynicism?
To speak about what happens in the film would be to rob it of some of its charm. But what's more important than the events that play out is what they make us feel. What must it be like to be known as the son of Kachrya, to have 'Kachru' for a middle name? What must it be like to have better handwriting than anyone in your class, to be more interested in academics than anyone else you study with, and yet be forced to miss school because your father needs your help digging ditches? Would you resent a man who slogged his entire life to give you an education, but asks you to remember your place in society, the very place your education should pull you out of?
What must it be like to be a nubile young woman, but have your parents speak of your life as a wasted one, a ruined one? What must it be like to be this woman and watch your younger sister giggle and blush and preen as she prepares for marriage? Would you be happy that your siblings are shown the promise of a better life than you had? Would you envy them? Would you grudge them their happiness? How would you react to the men who leer at you? Would you spurn their advances, or settle for whatever life has to offer you? What must it be like when your children are embarrassed to acknowledge that they're your children? To spend a life working your joints sore, so you can give your children a better future than the one your parents gave you, and have them snap at you for not giving them enough? When you have subscribed to a system all your life, would you accept it and force others to accept it even when you realise that it's working against you?
Manjule's ability to put us into every character's shoes is complemented by an excellent cast of mostly non-actors making their film debut. Each of them calls for our empathy; we know why they are resentful of each other; we know why they feel misunderstood.
Fandry is not the dark tale that a film which deals with the cruelty of children and the inescapability of caste is in danger of becoming. Its themes of adolescent love, and those bizarre friendships that cross the confines of age, are uplifting. While the script nudges us towards thinking about the societal retardation that endorses dowry, it also makes us laugh at the Bollywood kitsch that drives most of our own dream sequences.
In Somnath Avghade, we see an actor who can be defiant and vulnerable, steely and sensitive. There are several scenes which are memorable simply for his expressions – when he is asked by an officious neighbour (and the father of one of his classmates) to remove a piglet from the drain, when he is taunted by the village bullies, when the girl he has a crush on laughs, when his father pulls him away from showing off his dance moves to carry out a menial task, when his father sees a declaration of immortal love, and later, when his father reacts to it in a way he doesn't quite expect.
The easy pace of the film suddenly changes, and the climactic sequence is almost frantic. In the middle of all this, Manjule slips in a scene which makes us fall over laughing – funnily enough, it has to do with the relevance of patriotism in our daily lives. But the best, and most powerful, scene in the film is the final one, which makes all of us jump back in our seats.
Fandry is a must-watch; it's a rare film that has the screenplay, cinematography, music, dialogue, acting and direction coming together so beautifully.