‘Fandry’ – The Lived Experience Of Caste

Pigs are a controversial species to humankind. Muslims don’t eat pork and neither do most upper caste Hindus. Personally speaking, I haven’t made peace yet with the idea of eating a dead pig or a dead cow or a dead buffalo. It’s something deeply entrenched in my own Brahminical conscience. I remember an incident from my childhood. I was napping in the afternoon and I heard a pig squealing. I rushed to the terrace and saw two men chasing a pig, finally catching it, and tying it. I was distressed by the sight at that time. I asked my father later what they would do with it. He calmly replied, “They’ll kill and eat it.” I was aghast, “Eat a pig? How? Why?” He replied, “Well, people eat cows, dogs, and snakes as well.” I was astounded by that reply.

The movie “Fandry” is about a boy, Jabya, who is reluctant to chase pigs like his father does. They belong to a marginalised nomadic group called Kaikadi. Fandry means a pig in Kaikadi language. The movie in its subtle ways builds up how Jabya is ashamed of his caste, reluctant to work like his parents – chase pigs, labour to build houses, dig trenches, cut wood, etc. He is smitten by Shalu, an upper caste girl in his class, and dreams about her, while increasingly becoming conscious of his own identity, his looks, his skin colour, his poverty, and his caste. In one sequence, the Patil family, an upper caste land-owning community, asks Jabya to rescue a piglet stuck in a trench in front of their house. Jabya refuses, which surprises the Patils, who then call his father (Kachru Mane) to take out the piglet.

The last half an hour of the movie is a sequence where the whole Mane family is chasing pigs in a wasteland outside Jabya’s school. Jabya is shown to be reluctant to catch pigs while his old father, out of compulsion to arrange money for his daughter’s wedding, is relentlessly doing so. Kachru, tired and angry that Jabya is busy hiding, beats up Jabya in front of all the school kids. Jabya and Kachru are ultimately successful in catching the pig. While going back to their house, carrying the pig, Jabya is crying; ashamed and insulted in front of his friends. Meanwhile, upper caste boys tease Jabya and his sisters, calling them ‘fandry’. Jabya, sad and agonised, pelts stone at them, resorting to violence ultimately, to overcome his caste, to protest the discrimination.

The movie is a reflection on director Nagraj Manjule’s own life. Films like “Fandry” are a rarity in India – a country that is obsessed with caste and religion yet watches movies that are far away from that reality. Artists like Manjule (who also directed “Sairat”) are perhaps rarer. Film artists publicly speaking against caste oppression and participating in protests is something that is unheard of in India. Manjule not only does that, but has chosen a powerful medium like film to raise his voice against that discrimination.

One of my favourite sequences in the film is when the Mane family is chasing pigs, and the national anthem starts. The pig is within reach of Kachru and Jabya, but both stand still for the anthem while the pig runs away. The film starkly showcases the absurdity of the whole endeavour. In a particularly powerful imagery, Jabya and his family are seen to be taking the pig against the backdrop of a wall with paintings of Dr Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule, etc.

The film shakes you from within. It is a story of the lived experience of caste, the experience of marginalisation, the dent to the self-confidence of a person. It is deeply informed by Manjule’s childhood struggles and loneliness while growing up.

I first heard of the movie four years back, in 2013, when it was released. A friend told me that ‘fandry’ means pig. And we both laughed. A movie about chasing pigs won the national award! A movie about chasing pigs sounds absurd at first. Yet, caste, and people chasing people over religion, are normalised. Yet, we are desensitised to lynchings and deaths. If I had only lived chasing wild pigs, cleaning toilets, disposing of cows, I wouldn’t have laughed. I would have watched that movie back then. Or I would probably never have watched it, for it would have reminded me of the insults, the humiliation. But I have not lived that experience, and it took me four years to watch this landmark movie. I did not laugh during the movie. I was sad, aghast, and agonised, just like Jabya.

A version of this article was originally published on the author’s blog.