Quiet Like Caste: The Depiction of Jabya’s Childhood in Fandry (2013)

In this post, Sukriti Lakhtakia explores the imposition of social quietness in Nagraj Manjule's Fandry (2013), and analyses how the film shows that childhood "quietness" or meekness can be produced by social hierarchies which wish to entrench and ensure their perpetuation.


Fandry (“Pig”, Marathi; dir. Nagraj Manjule) begins with a lie. Jambuvant Mane (Jabya, played by Somanth Awghade), the film’s twelve-year-old protagonist, lies to his father about where he has been all afternoon. He claims that he was with his friend catching up with school homework, but in truth, he was wandering in the village forest, stealthily trailing an elusive black sparrow. Unsuccessful yet undefeated in his hunt, Jabya moves on, and on his way back, he replaces his slingshot with a pickaxe to avoid questions from his father, because it is seen as more natural and acceptable in his hands. Jabya belongs to the Kaikadi community and lives with his parents, two sisters, and his grandfather on the outskirts of the village Akolner in rural Maharashtra. The only untouchables in the entire village, his family is forced to earn their bread by doing various kinds of labour, such as construction work, collecting wood and straw, digging trenches, doing odd jobs for upper-caste men, like serving tea at meetings, and most important of all, catching and killing pigs.


Considered untouchable and impure animals because of the filth they are raised and live in, pigs are a nuisance in the village, running around chaotically and supposedly polluting the environment of the upper castes. The untouchability of the pig is mirrored in the attitude of the villagers towards Jabya and his family, who are relegated to the margins for being unclean and outcastes. But Jabya, unlike his father Kachru who is resigned to his degraded life, refuses to be pulled into the kind of work that is asked of him by virtue of his lower caste. Early into the film, we are made aware of the double life that Jabya leads – as a teenage boy trying his best to keep his caste identity separate from his hopes and dreams, and as the young member of a poor Dalit family, forced to prioritise hard labour over his simple childish pursuits and his education. Fandry is above all concerned with Jabya’s perspective – we see his dreams and nightmares, follow his path as he chases the black sparrow, and we hear the whimsical and sweet jingle in his mind when Jabya sees Shalu, his upper-caste classmate whom he is deeply in love with. Nagraj Manjule carefully articulates the perspective of his child protagonist in the midst of such a context of deep-rooted untouchability, and Jabya’s personal experiences and emotions assume the form of a powerful social critique about the prevailing caste system in India.

Fig. 1: Still from Fandry (2013)


At the heart of the film is Jabya’s innocent crush on Shalu. Many of his desires are oriented towards erasing the markers of his caste and catching her attention so that she may come to reciprocate his love. He longs to have a lighter complexion and powders his face before he leaves for school. He spends hours at home wearing a clothespin clipped to his nose, so that it may become straight like that of the models who pose for designer clothes. He chases the black sparrow because he believes that if he sprinkles the ashes of the bird onto Shalu, she too will fall in love with him. But in the one-hour forty-minute runtime of the film, Jabya is unable to catch the bird, and its role is limited to being a metaphor for the great socioeconomic distance that separates him and Shalu. There is but a single occasion when the bird is close enough to be caught, but just as Jabya quietly and calmly reaches out to catch the sparrow sitting on a low branch, a pig noisily runs through his path and the bird flies away.


Manjule makes very explicit in the film that Jabya’s village is not untouched by anti-caste movements. At the local school, children of all castes study together, on the walls are painted murals of prominent anti-caste figures of Babasaheb Ambedkar, and Savitribai Phule, and the students study Dalit literature such as poems by Saint Chokhamela, who belonged to the Mahar caste. And yet, as a boy from an untouchable caste, Jabya’s life is riddled with instances of discrimination and humiliation. The conflict between how Jabya sees himself and how society perceives him perpetually shadows his childhood experiences. The school, ordinarily portrayed as the site of progressive and democratic education, is in Fandry a public space that betrays the very principles it preaches, and caste differences come forth “as an ever-present spectre” (Ingle 2017). Jabya’s rich, upper caste classmate Sangram, who carries a mobile phone and has a motorbike of his own, often intimidates Jabya by staring him down, bossing him around, or calling him names such as “kaalu” (derogatory term for being dark-skinned) and “Fandry” (pig). Jabya usually submits, walks away, or protests feebly, ashamed and made painfully aware of his social status. The nature of Jabya’s silence suggests that it has a more systemic cause; there are important social factors at play in Jabya’s choice to stay quiet or to turn away when confronted by persons higher up the caste hierarchy. His quiet disposition is as much as a result of his own internalised shame as it is of the village and familial institutions that never let him forget that he doesn’t belong with the other children.

Fig. 2: Still from Fandry (2013)

Over the course of the film, the naturalness of Jabya having a crush is constantly thwarted, and each time he seems to come one step closer to achieving his dream of being with Shalu, the scene is harshly interrupted by a reminder of his lower-caste origins. During the village festival, Jabya, clad in new clothes, dances joyfully amidst the crowd to catch Shalu’s attention; a few moments later, Kachru forces Jabya to take on his job, which is to stand still and hold up a lamp on his head, shining light for the other upper-caste dancers as the sun sets. Jabya’s few moments of true happiness quickly turn into a deep sadness, and the scene of his fluid and freeing movements change to him standing rigidly still, while Sangram and his uncles continue to dance wildly in front of Jabya, mocking him, as tears stream down his face.

Fig. 3: Still from Fandry (2013)

In the final sequence of the film, Jabya’s humiliation peaks and he comes to face the brutal reality of his young life. After a rogue pig disrupts the village festival, Kachru and his family are forced to hunt it the very next morning. The pig chase soon turns into a spectacle – a large crowd gathers, comprising of not only Jabya’s schoolmates and particularly Shalu, but also upper-class men who often bully him and his father, shouting out abuses and casteist slurs, the most prominent of which is “Fandry” directed at Jabya. The camera moves around frenziedly with the Mane family, and after an exhausting twenty minutes, they manage to corner the pig, drawing closer and closer to it. The crowd is by now heavily invested and munching on snacks, and Sangram’s uncle begins filming the chase on his phone as a “Fandry match” to be uploaded onto Facebook that very instant. We see a disgusted Shalu laughing openly at Jabya wrestling with the pig, making it intensely clear that Jabya is the eponymous anti-hero of the film.

Fig. 4: Still from Fandry (2013)

By the end, Jabya has been driven to the wall. Feeling hurt and utterly distraught, he carries the gagged pig (the most powerful metaphor for Jabya’s silence) across the village and is yet again apprehended by the same men who decide to take advantage of his emotionally devastated state. This time around, however, an angry and traumatised Jabya responds by furiously throwing a rock at Sangram’s uncle, aiming accurately, and hitting his target on the forehead. As the man recovers and is about to retaliate, the camera suddenly flips perspective and we’re the ones facing Jabya, as he picks up another bigger stone and throws it, darkening the screen with a crushing noise to close the film. Jabya, no longer the quiet child, breaks his silence violently because in that moment he recognises his helplessness in the face of an unforgiving social hierarchy, and how the incident marks a cruel end to his childhood.

Fig. 5: Still from Fandry (2013)

The ending of the film is a direct and strong critique of the larger viewing public, which itself complicit in preserving the caste system, comprised of those who proudly quote anti-caste revolutionaries by memory but fail to practice their principles in daily life, and those who are oblivious to the exploitation of lower-caste and Dalit individuals who are on the margins of society. While Fandry (2013) may not be suitable for a child audience, it depicts the lives of children from the margins of society, which are distinctly underrepresented in popular media. The film “problematizes the normative grids through which we view ‘childhood’” (Ghalian 2019), exposing the burdens of a young child caught between his innocent aspirations and the violent oppression he is subjected to.


References

Ingle, Hrishikesh. “Fandry and Sairat: Marginal narratives and subjectivities in the new Marathi cinema.” Journal of Contemporary Film, vol. 15(2), 2017, pp. 175-190.

Ghalian, Sonia. “In Search of the Elusive Bird: Childhood from the Margins in Fandry.” The Palgrave Handbook of Children’s Film and Television, ed. Hermansson C., Zepernick J, 2019, pp. 315-328.

Fandry. 2013. Directed by Nagraj Manjule. Film.


Sukriti Lakhtakia is currently pursuing her Masters in Literature at Shiv Nadar University. She graduated from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi in 2020. She is interested in women’s writing, literary theory, cinema, and most recently, birds.

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