April 16, 2014 at 5:03 pm (Cinema, Kiran David)

Sometime ago, when a friend and I were sitting in a movie hall waiting for a film to begin, we chatted about the deplorable state of cinema, both globally and more so locally.  A bloke two seats away leans over and tells us that great things are happening in Marathi cinema. If there’s one thing among many I can’t stand, it’s a fucker, especially one I don’t know, worming his or her way into a conversation I’m involved in. However, instead of giving him the brush-off I normally would have, I said to him that these films may have decent or well-meaning ideas, but don’t work as cinema.

Having seen films like Shwaas, Dombivali Fast, Vihir, Tingya, Natrang and others: as cinematic experiences they did not work beyond a utilitarian functional purpose and were dull, inert and sometimes derivative. Vihir, despite its ideas, was floundering, lacking in the discipline it needed.  Gabhricha Paus was just about bearable, though I would not recommend it to anyone.  Even earlier films like Doghi left me cold, despite its heartrending story. I am not saying these filmmakers are not sincere and that the issues they are tackling are not important, but they just fail to be of any cinematic interest.  Just before this wave, which also opened up the box-office for Marathi films, was Chitra Palekar’s Maati Maay which had truly worthy moments and deserved better critical attention and commercial success. Its main problem, I felt, was in the casting of Nandita Das who just doesn’t work in the milieu, and has never convinced me as an actress. The other problem is the dream sequence which can be forgiven due to budget limitations. One way round that could have been to construct it in simpler terms.

[I will now digress from the main object with the hope to make a connection of some kind, this may or may not work for this piece but may for future pieces. Then again……..

I was recently watching some operas on the best home format currently available. The filmed version is an idiom which mutilates the very language of the “staged” opera.  As in every performative art which is the staging of a narrative, there are many languages at play. In opera there would be the libretto, the music, the performances, the setting, each expressing something in its own language. The director places these multiple languages within the context of the staged space, creating the desired experience; this is also a kind of composite language within which these other languages interact. What I am talking about should be understood only in the context of the staged version of an opera.

The blu ray with better image and seriously superior sound, while excellent to listen to  great singers and orchestras and follow the libretto thanks to subtitles in one’s language of choice, completely destroys the integrity of the stage performance, and here I am certainly not talking about scale.  The very language is wrecked, thereby altering the original experience. It completely destroys the spatial tension required for an appreciation of the performance, and though you can follow the narrative it converts the viewing experience from perception to speculation.]

It is with great enthusiasm and joy that one must greet Fandry, a Marathi film directed by first-time feature director Nagraj Popatrao Manjule. What is striking about his work is that there constantly seems to be a search to find something through cinema. He is not just depending on his story and telling it in a banal or gimmicky way like most recently regarded filmmakers in India seem to do.  Manjule has a wonderful way of using space in various ways. He uses it to create relationships between sets of characters, sometimes contradicting the primary emotion; and he also uses a space within a space as a fulcrum to create tension within the geography.

The very first shot, with great economy and simplicity states the theme of the film, while expressing the inherent contradictions present in the narrative—a strategy that recurs throughout the work. Early in the film he uses a track countering the protagonist’s movement, marginalizing him within the space he occupies, one of the themes inherent in the narrative that unfolds. The director structures the film with great intelligence, often letting two successive sequences evoke something beyond a commonplace narrative. He has the ability to reveal elements just when the narrative needs them.

While setting the story in an environment that has casteist prejudices, Manjule never overplays the relationships.  Everyone is playing out his expected part within the given society, this is what expresses the horror and tragedy of the situation.  It is Jabya the protagonist who is trying to cut through these divisions with his unrequited love for Shalu. But his movement towards the object of his desire is informed by a great faith that exists on a level of fantasy which perpetually gets stymied by the reality of the world he inhabits. Through the mysterious character of Chankya, the director is able to expand on his themes with subtlety. In the film’s village fair section, motifs recur  at various points, the whole sequence appears carnivalesque in nature,  where  one gets the feeling that all barriers have dissolved, the sacred and profane mingle; with remarkable skill the director surgically reconfigures the space isolating the protagonist within that frenzied milieu.

The film is paced to evoke the rhythms of life present in the environment only to shift gears at moments of crisis.  In relation to the rest of the film the last section (which ends with the stone thrown towards the camera) while in itself a symbol of revolt, carries with it the burden of a possible tragedy to come.

All the actors (I do not know if some of them are non-professional) are judicially chosen to express the characters they play and none of them disappoint. The director also understands how to use faces to their optimal advantage.

Using dead time and making it resonate needs a certain skill, and Manjule pulls it off.

While I am told the film has been appreciated and has done well, it is a pity it doesn’t get the kind of mileage that rubbish like Queen with Kangana Ranaut gets and Shubhra Gupta (in her Indian Express review) exults over: “Stop press: I have just seen an honest-to-goodness, full-fledged, full-bodied film. A FILM, hear me?” To this, one can only say: “BALLS. Film, my arse.” It’s more like a corporate morale-boosting AV that is a compilation of plausible sequences that may ring true in the most banal way. Predictable stuff geared to warm the cockles of the viewers’ hearts (Woody Allen in an early film says, there’s nothing like warm cockles). Besides it has the stupidest use of flashbacks I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen some pretty awful ones.

While I’m happy Fandry has been liked by audiences, I hope people, whatever their response be, appreciate it for the rich text it is. It needs to be seen on screen, it would lose on small home formats.  Queen, other than scale, would be the same experience even if seen on a mobile phone

Before ending, I must mention a couple of places where there are problems. One being: too many cutaways to shots of the school  before the pig-hunt starts, and second: the motivation used to make Shalu turn towards Jabya and his buddy Pirya seems a bit forced, as we have already realised earlier in the sequence what the director is trying to express.

Unlike the posturing of many directors, who these days keep harping about being different and in truth are only deluded in believing they are unique, this director, while he may not use a radically new form, ploughs the familiar with an honest rigor, finding truths and arriving at a form that is tenuous but rich, opening out possibilities and arriving at a place his contemporaries are incapable of. Kabir Mohanty, the great artist largely working with video, in his illuminating talk (at Jnanapravaha Mumbai) a couple of years ago, said that staking a claim to being different for its own sake is pathetic.

What makes Manjule someone to watch out for is that Fandry makes us aware of an artist who has an awareness of “Art” and that his is a quest to express the truth he seeks through it.

– Kiran David




  1. Vistasp said,

    Very interesting. Now I must watch this movie.

  2. Samindra Das said,

    You have hit it on the nail. Post after watching the film for almost 10 minutes I just sat on my stationary 2-wheeler and tried to appreciate the richness of the film.

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