(Welcome to A Passage to India, a new series where we explore great works from all over South Asia for unacquainted viewers, all of them available to stream.)

Nagraj Popatrao Manjule seems like a born filmmaker, though he only gravitated towards the profession in his early thirties. His reason, in part, was to reflect his own experiences, those oft unaddressed by the Indian mainstream. His 2011 short Pistulya, for instance, focuses on a child from a Dalit family — a community frequently oppressed within India’s long-standing caste hegemony — in a film about hoping and, in some small ways, fighting for an education. This story of searching for a better life, while exposing the perils of rigid social hierarchy, lends its DNA to Manjule’s 2014 debut feature, the Marathi-language Fandry, a sublime, hard-hitting tale of longing and circumstance.

In Fandry, Manjule crafts, with every tool at his disposal, what may well be one of the best-directed first features in recent memory. A soulful portrait of character, place and memory, told from the lens of a tumultuous childhood. It builds, incisively, to a stunning, saddening and perhaps even enraging climax, holding accountable those who would uphold the perceived normality of caste oppression. On its way to this potent destination, it takes us on an intimate journey alongside its thirteen-year-old protagonist, Jambhuvant Kachru Mane, AKA Jabya (Somnath Awghade), drawing influence from the likes of Vittorio De Sica’s Italian neorealist staple Ladri di biciclette, though maintaining a rhythmic, pulsating energy unique to India’s contemporary indie scene. There is, quite simply, nothing like it.

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