Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Top of Form

Three unusual films, each in a different genre, hit India’s screens, all in February.  One: the Marathi film Fandry , a searing indictment of the evils of caste, is an astonishing sleeper success. Two:  the hard-hitting Gulabi Gang is proof that this new documentary on woman empowerment is now commercially viable (gaining an important boost  from actor Sonham Shah and from Anand Gandhi’s new distribution company).  Three:  Imtiaz Ali’s  Highway out-maneuvers Bollywood with an in-your-face story of a well-off girl fighting caste and class when she unexpectedly finds herself on the road to self-discovery.

But it is Fandry that is re-defining what audiences take to heart and want to see.  It comes to the screen wearing many laurels and awards. How often does a festival  programmer like me not hear “Festival films do not sell. We don’t want our film there. It gets labelled as ‘serious’.”

Well, Fandry is a prime example of an applauded festival film doing well at the box office  – and why?  Because it handles a deeply disturbing subject well - the inhuman plight of low caste communities. Fandry fills us with shame.

Fandry  means ‘pig’. It is a head-on insult. It indicts occupation and caste. Fandry tells of an odd job man, his wife and school-going son Jabya. Being the only dalits in the village, the three are treated with contempt and ordered to do menial jobs. Above all, since pigs are impure, the higher castes make  this family responsible for  removing stray pigs from the vicinity. Young Jabya, acutely resentful of his low status and dark skin, nevertheless aspires to the company of a fair and upper-class school girl. 

Incongruously the film opened in Maharashtra as a tribute to a concept far removed from the spirit of Fandry, Valentine’s Day.  Jabya’s boyish crush provides a romantic obligatto to the plot line, as does his dare-devil nature which contrasts with the servitude of his patents.

On a larger level, the film is driven by degradation. The  low-caste and the pig are equated by the privileged caste which rules the village.  It is the deft telling of the story that makes us feel responsible for the injustice.  The film draws  us into becoming participants, right up to  the gut-wrenching final sequences. 

Director Nagraj Manjule is two films old.  His short film Pistulya (on class divides in rural India)  won the 2011 National Award.  His debut feature Fandry is a winner from the word go.  Appreciative audiences warmed to it at the BFI-London Film Festival.  It created a stir at the Mumbai International Film Festival winning the Grand Jury Award. The film has since traveled (so far)  to festivals in Abu Dhabi, CFSI - Hyderabad, IFFI-Goa, Goteberg, Pune (winning four major awards), Dharamasala and Kerala. It is the first film to win the newly instituted FIPRESCI India-Film Critics Award.

Noting the film’s impact, Zee Entertainment, picked it up for distribution within Maharashtra, where it released on February 14 running to packed houses. The director, along with his producer Vivek Kajaria and co- producer  Nilesh Navalakha,  decided to bypass the usual pre-release  fanfare on TV and other media. The team did not have the funds for that and besides, they felt that such hype would be wrong for the mood of the film.

Fandry’s  confident Maharasthtra run has triggered its national release. From February 28, 2014, it will screen in  Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Goa and 12 other States. This is an amazing trajectory for a film that is charged with issues of  inhumanity,

Director Nagraj Manjule knows his mores well. He says, “Caste and identity are inseparable in India. The moment you ask somebody his name, you have a clue to caste and class.  My village and my caste are integral to my identity.”  He adds, with the wisdom that comes from within, that to cry and weep is also catering to the concept of entertainment.  He feels tears are a catharsis that the human mind and psyche need. It is this motivating factor that makes Fandry so moving and compelling, enough to affect the defining graph of  box office.

Good news!   Tarun Chopra’s debut documentary, W, will release on March 14. The film is on the sexual violence faced by women and how a rape victim is labeled and degraded in the process that follows.  Entertainment is now not just song and dance and weddings. Its meaning  is being extended to social challenge and thoughtfulness.

Courtesy: http://thecitizen.in/ - India's first independent on-line daily which was launched on January 27, 2014 reproducing Uma da Cunha's column from the third edition


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