"Although Bachchan is God, I could never relate to him"

Undeterred by caste, Nagraj Popatrao Manjule, a National Award-winning filmmaker has gone on to leave his mark on the coming Mumbai Film Festival that begins on October 17. With over 200 films being selected, Manjule’s film Fandry, is the only one that will be competing with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon) and Kim Mordaunt (The Rocket) in the International Competition section.

A still from Fandry

“The lower the person will be in a society, the larger will he dream,” says the filmmaker from Karmala town in Sholapur district. Brimming with a humanist vision of people, events and life in general; unabashed Manjule went on to script a story starring a 14-year-old boy Jabya who falls in love with Shalu. The twist in the tale is that while Jabya belongs to the caste of untouchables (Kaikadi), Shalu’s higher caste makes her unattainable.

As Pistulya, his award-winning short was coming from “felt experiences”, one wondered if it were true for Fandry too. “Everyone in their heart has a complex. Be it about gender / caste / class. This story is of my father, my friends, my brothers as well as me. It is only after becoming 30 years old, I have gained some confidence,” says Manjule to us, in Hindi. Incongruous becomes the fact when one thinks, that this talented artiste also happens to be one of the most important poets (Unhachya Kataviruddha) in Marathi literature, in the last ten years.

“My childhood was spent at the video centre. For me, Amitabh Bachchan is God. I would tie the end of my shirt in a knot as Bachchan’s character did in Coolie. My teacher would hit me for that so I would untie it in school and the moment the bell rang, it was back. But I was never able to relate to him coming from the background that I did. If through my films people can feel the pain of my community, I would feel my efforts meant something,” says Manjule who was besotted with World Cinema at first sight, despite being unable to even read the subtitles.

Manjule scouted for a boy from his village unfazed that he was choosing a non-actor for his debut feature. “I had gone to a function celebrating my film when this boy who was playing the instrument Halgi caught my eye. After pursuing him for almost three months and reassuring him that I am a genuine director, the boy confided that he is afraid of people,” reveals Manjule, who is elated with this film’s selection at BFI London Film Festival and Abu Dhabi Film Festival.  

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