It’s one film that zooms into India’s dirtiest non-secret - caste. Nagraj Manjule says the dark-skinned underdog in ‘Fandry’ is none but himself. “I can feel the wetness of his tears because it’s me. The shame, the humiliation, everything is real, it’s the story of my people. The arid village, the high summer, the pain, I have seen it all,” says the filmmaker.
‘Fandry’ unravels the life of Jabya, a dalit adolescent - his inner fears, forced-inferiority and unspoken love for an upper-class schoolmate. Set in a sun-drenched Maharashtrian village, the film follows a set of human beings whose everyday reality is never-ending humiliation. Caste is their primary identity and their egos broken beyond repair. Struck by the stigma of untouchability, they are dragged to a life that lacks even a miniscule of self-esteem.
Nagraj says caste is a bitter truth which is not just confined to rural parts. “In villages it’s more intense and visible, but in urbane parts it comes covered in sophistication. But they always come up with innovative and indirect ways of hinting at it. India will never grow out of caste system, from the matrimonial columns to political parties who treat them as vote banks, it’s everywhere,” he says.
Nagraj says casting was the most difficult part of ‘Fandry’ as he couldn’t find faces that suit the characters from the industry. “I had to settle for non-actors and it took three months to convince the family of the boy who played Jabya. But he turned out to be a natural actor, moreover he was living his own life. There was not much difference between his real life and reel-life the grief and anguish he portrayed was something that was suppressed inside him for years.”
The film is devoid of sloganeering and it’s through some subtle representations the milieu and trauma is conveyed. “I am not an activist, I consider being a good human the highest form of activism. So I haven’t gone for any outrageous tricks,” he says.
He says people caught in an acute sense of empathy come to him after each screening. “They tell ‘Fandry’ was a reliving of their own story. They were people who could never relate to the singing-dancing heroes of mainstream Bollywood,” he says. He adds certain scenes and its striking climax are not used to signify the ‘rise of the subaltern’. “The boy stands for so many. He represents a crowd who lives with so much of resentment bottled up inside them,” he says.