SHYAM SINGHA ROY (2021)

  • Platform: Netflix
  • Release Date: 24/12/2021
  • Cast: Nani, Sai Pallavi, Krithi Shetty, Madonna Sebastian
  • Director: Rahul Sankrityan

Vicious religious, ideological misinformation and messaging spoils what could have been a fun film

— Ambar Chatterjee

A budding film director, Vasu is on the fast lane to realizing his dreams of becoming a renowned and revered film director. His first feature film becomes a raging hit. Bollywood has taken notice of his substantial talent and is on the brink of signing him to direct two original films based on scripts that he has written. His life seems too good to be true until the police drag him out of the most important launch event of his life. He is arrested on charges of plagiarism and it is revealed that every script that he has ever written is a copy-paste job on the works of a revolutionary thinker and writer, Shyam Singha Roy. Vasu denies any knowledge of Shyam or having ever read his work. He violently defends his scripts and believes that they are original. A legal proceeding is brought up against him and it is here that we learn about an uncanny and otherworldly association between Vasu and Shyam Singha Roy. What happens next forms the crux of the narrative of this film.  

A film like Shyam Singha Roy can be dissected based on its three noticeable aspects.

The performances, art, and execution of the ‘2000’ timeline:

The timeline of the film that plays out in the current time is the most unremarkable and could have been completely done away with. I felt that the twist that the character of Vasu brought to the entire story and how he is related to Shyam Singha Roy in many ways marred the otherwise realistic and affecting tone and layout of the narrative. If this portion of the film did something remarkable to the story then it would have been a risk worth taking but that is not the case. Between the two timelines, I felt like watching two different films. The writers could have conjured up a different character to take care of all that Vasu brings to the table and that would have contributed to making the film better in terms of presentation and maintaining realism. Having said that, the track does have two brief moments in which it shines. These are when the character of Shyam Singha Roy is introduced using the character of Vasu and the last scene of the film where Shyam Singha Roy is reunited with his love.

Nani is great as Vasu and he infuses some much-needed comedy in the film through his deadpan mannerisms. The scene where he furiously looks on as his own advocate drools over a senior was a laugh-out-loud moment. I couldn’t suppress my smile in the initial scenes where we see the character of Vasu conduct auditions. Krithi Shetty is exquisite and dreamy and that adds the right vibes to the character that she plays. She has what it takes to render a character that would incite romance and wide-eyed wonder in a man. I have to add that she owned the screen in every sequence that she was a part of and even though her character was the most generic in the film, it was her performances and screen presence that made it worthwhile and even enjoyable.

While ably executed and often laced with soothing and inspiring visuals, this portion of the film is nothing to write home about and could have been completely avoided had the story been dealt with in a different manner and concentrated on its strength that was the post-interval half.

The performances, art, and execution of the ‘1960’ timeline:

This is the portion of the film that makes the most impact and has everything that makes this film special. Nani as Shyam Singha Roy is electric. He disappears behind the skin of the character. His mannerisms and attitude are so much in sync with the rendition that there were times when I completely forgot that he was Nani and instead took him only as Shyam Singha Roy. Even the bits and pieces of Bengali dialogue assigned to him in the film came out so naturally that it felt as it was a language that he was well-versed in. His rendition of the action sequences and the one in which he is depicted as a revolutionary thinker and someone who is not afraid to go against the norms was executed just as proficiently as it was rendered aesthetically by Nani. 

Sai Pallavi is a revelation in the film. She adds so much to the character of Rosie and renders it with such humanity and wonder that the character instantaneously becomes the heart and soul of the film. Again, as was the case with Krithi Shetty, she has the beauty and the pristine charm to incite the kind of romance in a man as is depicted in the film. I was in awe of her numerous dance performances in the film. I have to give kudos to the exceptional work done on the dance choreography as well as how these sequences were envisioned, shot and edited. All these factors compounded to leave the kind of impact that not only stopped me from skipping the song and dance routines (something I mostly do while watching content on OTT) but also made me appreciate and absorb the sheer beauty and power of the art on display.

The chemistry between Sai Pallavi and Nani made the love story come to life. The exchanges between the two felt so real and heartwarming that they immediately endeared the characters to the audiences and engrossed them in their story. I have to add that how the story culminated had to be done very aesthetically and it wasn’t the easiest thing to do considering how the makers dug themselves deep using the elements that they did in connecting the two timelines through the characters of Nani. Thankfully, they were able to pull it off, and that too, in great style.

I loved the look and feel of 1960s Bengal. The cinematographer and the art department have to be given due credit for creating a believable world by using tried tested elements but in a manner that worked for the visual representation. The film was also aided by their understanding of how bustling with life the time period was and capturing it in its glorious and chaotic best.

The ideology, messaging, and the Hindu phobia of it:

While the film does so many things that would endear it to many, it is so laced with vicious Hindu phobia and blatant disregard for being subtle and caring about the millions who would most definitely be hurt by its depiction of so many things, that it is hard to appreciate this film alone for its craft and finesse. Insensitivity can still be forgiven but this film goes so ahead in its Hindu-bashing and ridiculing every aspect of a civilization that is millions of years old that after a while it started getting on my nerves. The director does his best to peddle the same lies that the British journalist and historians have tried to sell about the Devadasis and is unbelievably aggressive about it. Sadly he doesn’t forget to make heroes out of Naxals and tries to depict them as saviors of the poor. It is an underlined fact that communism and Naxals have harmed the poor and resulted in their deaths more than any corporate or capitalist. All these aspects of the film start meddling with its storytelling and it shows that Rahul Sankrityan is trying to push his political and religious beliefs through the film more than being on point with the story and what makes it tick.

Final words:

Shyam Singha Roy is a well-made film. It has great performances, splendid music, and better still choreography. The film has heart in the romantic bits. It is well envisioned and beautiful to look at. However, the vicious and ill-advised messaging of it, the lackluster writing, and the unnecessary supernatural angle ruin it considerably. It would have been a much better film if it was approached differently and didn’t have the copious amounts of venom that it spews at the Hindus world over. Thankfully the audiences these days have become learned enough to understand these ploys and this film will only teach them better how to separate art from political and religious misinformation.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
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