Fandry, directed by Nagraj Manjule, follows the story of 13-year old Jabya and his endeavour to win over Shalu, who belongs to a dominant-caste, rich family. Set amidst society fraught with caste-based discrimination, Jabya’s deep sense of insecurity emanates from the fact that he belongs to the only non-dominant caste family in the village. Owing to the differences in their backgrounds, Jabya finds it hard to express his feelings for Shalu.
His family, being the only Dalit family in the village, live in a kutcha house on the outskirts and make a living by performing jobs that are deemed ‘unclean’ by the dominant-caste villagers. Jabya’s father, it seems, is resigned to his fate while young Jabya is rebellious. When he is ordered by Patil to help a piglet trapped in a pit, Jabya outrightly refuses. Unlike his father, Jabya is a non-conformist who refuses to participate in chasing and catching pigs.
At home, he and his sisters speak Marathi because they dislike speaking their mother tongue. He wants to be treated with the same respect that is accorded to his dominant-caste classmates and therefore wants to disassociate himself with anything that the dominant-caste villagers look down upon.
Jabya is extremely conscious of his appearance and dark skin colour. He applies powder on his face to look fairer and spends extra time styling his hair before leaving for school. He observes a model outside a Van Heusen store and tries to make his nose slimmer by clamping it with a clothespin.
On multiple occasions, Jabya is seen requesting his mother to buy him a pair of jeans in the hope that by making a few external changes, he will be able to get Shalu’s attention. He befriends a bike mechanic, Chankya, who tells him that any person can be mesmerized by throwing the ashes of a black long-tailed sparrow on them. So, Jabya and his friend Piraja embark on a journey to hunt the elusive black sparrow.
The implementation of laws remain in the hands of the oppressors.
It is almost ironic that the walls of Jabya’s school have pictures of leaders (Dr B.R. Ambedkar and Savitribai Phule) who were fierce advocates for the annihilation of the caste system. It is a result of their relentless efforts that Jabya has the opportunity to study in the same school as his dominant-caste classmates. On paper, Jabya and his family are allowed ‘Negative Liberty’ as a result of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution to all citizens. Negative Liberty is the absence of external constraints, obstacles or interference by a third party (Berlin, 1958).
Even though India has laws that make the practice of untouchability and caste-based discrimination a punishable offence, the implementation of these laws remain in the hands of the oppressors. Even though Jabya sits in a classroom which is supposed to provide him with the same opportunities as his dominant-caste classmates, it does not translate into equality. This can be seen in multiple instances throughout the movie where Jabya is constantly demeaned and ridiculed by his classmates and the villagers for belonging to a non-dominant caste family. At school, Jabya is often referred to as ‘darkie’ and mocked because of his family’s profession.
When Jabya visits his friend Kulkarni to find out about homework, his mother refers to him as ‘untouchable’. Jabya waits outside the house as Kulkarni gets his books because he is considered ‘impure’ to enter a Brahmin household. When a dominant-caste boy takes notice of Jabya’s newfound interest in Shalu, he threatens him to remain ‘grounded’.
This constant vilification and humiliation that Jabya and his family face on an everyday basis has robbed them of their right to live a dignified life. He develops a deep complex about his background. An environment that treats him as an equal in society is denied to him by the dominant caste oppressors. As such, formally providing for equality of opportunity does not yield the desired degree of equality in outcome. Self-actualization has been made a lofty goal for Jabya.
The movie portrays the connection between gender and caste-based discrimination. Set in a patriarchal and casteist society, life for Jabya’s sisters is much harder. They are subjected to discrimination at multiple levels. Patriarchy, class and caste have placed them at the bottom of the development ladder. Both of them had to drop out of school to help with domestic duties.
At school, Jabya is often referred to as ‘darkie’ and mocked because of his family’s profession.
Their father has to pay a huge sum as dowry to get his younger daughter married while Durpa (the elder daughter) is mocked at for being a widow. While Jabya can be seen arguing with his mother, his sisters come across as despondent characters. While Shalu’s mother only features in domestic settings, Jabya’s mother has to go out and work for the sustenance of the family. When Jabya’s mother comes to his school wanting to study, Jabya feels embarrassed and warns her to not come again. Despite affirmative action in the form of reservations, scholarships and protection under the Constitution from atrocities, the family has been prevented from accessing the latter.
Kachru is seen to be working very hard but does not get the fitting results. For a society with a ‘merit-based’ system cannot be considered just. It should provide for basic needs that are necessary to live a dignified life. If in the outcome, certain communities are constantly lagging, society cannot be deemed just. According to the ‘Distributive Justice’ theory, it is the society that is responsible for failing to lift the family’s position in society. (Bhargava & Acharya, 2008)
In the final scene where the entire family is chasing a pig outside Jabya’s school, Jabya, out of sheer embarrassment hides in a corner as his classmates watch as spectators. Frustrated at multiple unsuccessful attempts with no help from Jabya, Kachru thrashes him while his classmates look on. When the family is finally successful in trapping the pig, the national anthem begins to play. All of them stand still and helpless as the pig escapes. This is a subtle mockery of the idea of forced nationalism.
The movie is also reflective of the Ambedkarite assertion in India. The dominant class is not willing to accommodate or even acknowledge this assertion as they view it as a threat to their status in society and all the privileges they enjoy. Jabya is reluctant to accept the age-old occupation and status that he has inherited. He wants to be treated as an equal in society.
Jabya loses his cool and physically assaults a group of dominant-caste boys who mock him and his family for catching pigs. The final scene is particularly hard-hitting where Jabya pelts a stone aimed at the audience that has been complicit in perpetuating the caste system in India. The ideals of liberty, equality and justice were enshrined in the Indian Constitution to be the guiding principle of the state and policymakers – but when translated in society, as portrayed in Fandry, it fails to achieve its purpose.
References Berlin, I. (1958). Two Concepts of Liberty. Lecture, University of Oxford. Bhargava, R., & Acharya, A. (2008). Political Theory: An Introduction. (Bhargava & Acharya, 2008)
Featured image used for representative purpose only. Image source: Netflix