For the last decade, since Shwaas (2004), one has seen Marathi cinema slowly but surely come into its own through some wonderful films like Harishchandrachi Factory, Ghabricha Paus, Valu, Vihir, Deool, and Shala, just to name some. One can safely add Fandry (Wild Pig) to that ever-growing list now.
Enough has been written about filmmaker Nagraj Manjule's Fandry in glowing terms ever since it debuted on the festival circuit last year and let it be said right at the beginning - the film deserves all the accolades and more! The film, deceptively simple on the surface, while looking at the first flushes of love that a dark, young low-caste teenage Dalit boy, Jabya, feels for his fair, high-caste classmate, is as strong a statement as any against the centuries old caste system prevalent in much of India even today. What's more the film does this without being preachy or in your face. In fact, its treatment is tender and full of gentle smile-inducing moments of a magical time in one's adolescent life, but layered with its key issue always omnipresent beneath the surface and which, by the end, jolts you - as my fellow filmmaker friend Ranjan Das says - out of your middle-class smug existence with an Ankur-like ending that leaves you stunned.
Fandry scores in practically all departments be it the well-written screenplay, the fine etching of its characters for whom a lot of empathy is created, the wonderful and very real performances, with some great use of detailing of the village and the barren landscape it is filmed in. But as mentioned earlier, it is the mastery with which the film and the layering of its issues are dealt with. We always see photographs of Babasaheb Ambedkar and other leaders painted on the village walls in the background of many a frame, but in the foreground, the action of the villagers show us how we've imbibed nothing from them. Also, it is only a dream-like solution of catching the metamorphic black sparrow and killing it that that can get Jabya out of the nightmare rut his life is in, or so he believes. It is obvious the reality around him will not, while the absolutely brilliant use of the National Anthem during the climax says it all.
The film is further aided by its wonderful and natural performances. Somnath Avghade is the life and soul of the film as Jabya. You cannot help but empathize with him and his desire just to lead a normal and dignified life like everyone else. He hits all the right notes with his extremely real and believable act lending the film much credibility, while bringing alive small moments like the time he takes getting his hair in order or ironing his shirt lovingly with a hot lota. Suraj Pawar as his friend and confidante, Piraji, supports him ably. The sequences between the two as they discuss Jabya's love story are amongst the most heart-warming sequences of the film. Manjule himself turns in a fine cameo as Chanakya whom the rest of the village sees as an eccentric, but who relates to Jabya and the later to him. Kishore Kadam as Jabya's father is reliably efficient as always.
If at all there are minor quibbles, the lengthy climax where the family is made to catch the pigs is a little too loosely shot and seems to be put together more on the editing table before the gut wrenching close-ups of Jabya and his humiliation get it back on track. All in all, Fandry could well be the finest Indian film that one has seen this year and remember, we are just yet only in February.