For quite some time now, Netflix had been nudging me to watch ‘Fandry‘, I guess based on my viewing history. I took the bait after Ratna Pathak Shah mentioned the film during a recent but rare interview on a news channel. Fandry, according to her, is one of the must-watch films coming out of meaningful Indian cinema.
Fandry came out in 2014 and is the directorial debut of the now famous Nagraj Manjule, best known for his massive hit Sairat that released in 2016. Sairat has scored some important firsts: First Marathi film to gross Rs.100 crore worldwide. First Indian film to record in Hollywood – its soundtrack includes Western classical pieces recorded at the Sony Scoring Stage. The film’s music directors are a duo of brothers – Ajay and Atul Gogavale, who started their careers with dhol-tasha groups, used during the Ganesh Utsav, one of the most significant festivals in Maharashtra. These are grassroots men.
Nagraj Manjule’s roots lie in the stories he tells on the screen, and this is obvious to anyone who watches Fandry and Sairat. An aggressive caste dialogue takes place throughout the narrative. There is love, and then there is despair. Manjule grew up in Jeur village in the Solapur district of Maharashtra. He always wanted to be a filmmaker. Success kissed him and now he lives a hallowed life. He is, truly, a self-made man who made it big with ‘meaningful cinema’. His kind of success is rare.
This brings us to…
It has the gravitas, doesn’t it? With an extra grrr… in it. Meaningful. It smells different. Feels different. “I watch meaningful cinema,” there, no more questions; I have arrived. Today, this is the yesteryears’ equivalent of “I watch only Hollywood films”.
Ask me – I just watched Fandry and I think it was okay. I was fascinated, moved even, by the way the Sairat story ends. Versus all those hours spent watching films like Dabangg, and Singham, and Ready, or Andaz Apna Apna. This felt different. How different? Sairat is QSQT (Qayamat se qayamat tak) based on caste and not class. Fandry… Is Bobby gone bad, based on caste and not class or religion. Fans of this ‘meaningful’ cinema will probably outrage at the comparisons made.
After all, Sairat wouldn’t be the same without the intense detailing of its characters – a spunky, multi-talented boy called Parshya and Archie, a girl who is courageous, outspoken, and unconventional – she rides an Enfield. Their love story appears far more ‘meaningful’ than QSQT ever could. Why?
But think about this: In both Fandry and Sairat, the definition of ‘love’ is pretty thin. Boy sees girl. Boy keeps staring at her. Boy tries to talk to her. Boy looks for situations through which he can get noticed by the girl, or get close to her. Girl gives in. Girl is taken in by the fact that the boy has shown some daring by approaching her. For the boy, the line between machismo and stupidity is very thin. There are innumerable stories of this sort.
In Fandry, Jambya the boy manages to talk to his Shalu only in his dreams, while in Sairat, things get a little more daring – there is an actual exchange before the girl decides she loves this audacious backward caste boy Parshya. Fandry’s Jambya is a schoolboy. Sairat’s Parshya is in college. Hardly the age when people try to find meaning.
In QSQT, it’s the same thing. In Bobby, same again.
In Hindi songs, love is often described as a malady, a madness, a condition where pain is the only constant. So does Jambya of Fandry in his letter to his beloved Shalu say: “I can give up anything for you, even my life.” Said every Indian romeo ever. Where is the meaning, pray tell?
I found meaning in Salman’s ‘Ready’ where he says he’s looking for a girl who is strong, smart, and dependable. In ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ where a millionaire’s daughter falls in love with a guy who is a nobody, and despite being tricked by him. In ‘English Vinglish’, where just about every frame is superb, and it’s a mature pondering over the meaning of love.
Who makes these distinctions for movie-goers? This is ‘meaningful’ and that is ‘popular’. And the twain shall never meet.
If meaningful can become popular, as in the case of Sairat, so can the popular be meaningful, as in the case of Dil Chahta Hai, the ham scene in the end notwithstanding. And again, if a handful of people tell others this is meaningful and that isn’t, what’s it called other than elitism? Do these people understand that pure entertainment actually means a lot to a large chunk of people?
Maybe when these people say meaning, they mean a movie set that is by far indistinguishable from what we see in real life. Lesser the escapism, greater the meaning. And meaning is good. The opposite, bad. Maybe that’s how Nagraj Manjule is such a powerful story-teller. Because, at times it so happens that those who live close to a broken system find it extremely difficult to stand away from it.
Read here the story of Sunita Manjule, Nagraj Manjule’s ex-wife. If it is true what she says about her 15-year marriage, one will have no choice but wonder. Your search for meaning might end in one definitive answer: that the powerful exploit the weak. The context may change: class, caste, religion, gender, race. The story really doesn’t.
The search for meaning, begins and ends in our subjective experience.