Fandry is, on the surface, a coming-of-age film about love; however, it delves into the perpetual deep social issues regarding caste conflict and inter-caste relations in India.
“For over 1,500 years, anyone born a Hindu was right at the centre of the caste system. If one was born among the lower castes – the Dalits or the Sudra (Untouchables), a life of struggle and torment began. But life is the exact opposite if one is born a Brahmin. Rape, torture, and killings continue to take place in the name of caste. Dalit massacres have been committed since 1947 and still continue” (Shaka)
The Canadian premier of Fandry was this past Tuesday, Nov 11th, as part of the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival. This film was powerful, very moving, and worked well to expose a prevalent issue that needs to be addressed. Every once in a while you walk away from a film that makes you think deeply, question everything, and it somehow changes you; Fandry is one of these films. The political and social agenda is beautifully conveyed through the films excellent use of affect. You can feel the frustration of the lead, Jabya (Somnath Awghade), who is madly in love with a girl out of his reach and is harassed mercilessly by the higher-caste village boys. You feel his sadness when his dreams are constantly ripped away from him as he is forced into demeaning work. You feel the shame he feels when he is set apart and embarrassed in front of his peers, and you feel the hope that is always just out of reach in his quest for the black sparrow with the tail like a kite. The effect is as overwhelming at times and the film is constructed in such a way that it is nearly impossible to leave unaffected.
The director very masterfully draws the audience into this world, but it is a world where the audience quite obviously doesn’t belong. The audience is made aware that we are voyeurs; we are observing this family’s pain and struggle, like many of the other villagers, and for most, this is a struggle that we cannot identify with as we are observing from positions of privilege. At the end of the film, the director chooses to very powerfully break down the fourth wall, having Jabya throw a rock at his nemesis, but it essentially ‘smacks the audience in the face’ with its message and the act literally becomes a ‘light’s out’ moment for the audience. It was a particularly jarring way to end the film, which was precisely the point. The ending offers an incredibly symbolic message, at least in my interpretation, that being a passive observer to another human being’s suffering is the same as being a participant in his or her disenfranchisement. Put another way, if you do not actively question and work to change an ongoing issue, then you are allowing that issue to persist and are in fact part of the problem.
Fandry is a film that has started a much needed social dialogue in India and, much to its credit, has incited the creation of Project Fandry, a social group encouraging discussion and advocating for change: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Project-Fandry/711562668909315.
In spite of the sensitive topic, Fandry, released in 2013 in India, has been received very well and with high acclaim. It has won Best Film at the Mumbai International Film Festival, Best Film, Best Film(Audience), Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Actor at the Pune International Film Festival, Best Film of the year 2013 by the International Federation of Film Critics, Best Indian feature film at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, Best Film, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Child Artist, Best Script, Best Editor by Mata Sanman, Best Director at the New York Indian Film Festival, and won a National Award for Best Debut (Director) and Best Child Actor. I’m sure it is a shoe-in for the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival Audience Choice award as well.
Shaka, Jack. “India’s Caste System: A Panacea for Peace or Conflict? An Interview with Dr. Kshemendra Kumar Upadhyay,” Journal or Conflictology, Vol 3, Issue 1, 2012. pp.3-6.