Nagraj Manjule grew up as a Dalit, an untouchable, scorned by a caste system that he says never lets you forget how low you are. The short-film director channeled the shame and the ridicule of his childhood into his first feature film, “Fandry” (“Pig”) which won the Jury Grand Prize at the Mumbai Film Festival last month.
The movie is about a Dalit schoolboy named Jabya (Somnath Awghade) who lives on the outskirts of a village and struggles against the caste system by daring to dream, and eventually rebelling against the perpetrators of that system.
He harbours a crush on a fair-skinned, Brahmin class-mate, dreams of buying fancy new blue jeans, and uses talcum powder to try to make his dusky face fair. Through scenes with his father, his best friend and the village maverick who becomes friends with Jabya, Manjule tells the audience that little has changed. The powerful climax gives the audience a glimpse into Jabya’s insecurities, his reluctance to accept his identity, before he finally snaps, retaliating against those ridiculing him and his family.
“You are constantly told you are no good, and never will be. In some way or the other, there is so much humiliation, that after a while you begin to believe that what is being said about you is true,” Manjule said in an interview.
His childhood was much like Jabya’s. One difference was his father, who, unlike Jabya’s somewhat tyrannical father, wanted him to study. Manjule devoured books, reading Marathi and English literature whenever he got a chance. His ticket to a better life came when he left his village to study Marathi literature at the University of Pune.