‘Shyam Singha Roy’ review: Nani and Sai Pallavi make it immensely watchable

Director Rahul Sankrityan celebrates the fearless writer in this story of reincarnation that sidesteps a few cliches but ultimately gets predictable

Director Rahul Sankrityan celebrates the fearless writer in this story of reincarnation that sidesteps a few cliches but ultimately gets predictable

The actual hero introduction scene in the Telugu film
Shyam Singha Roy happens at the midway mark. Coming into full view, gradually, is not a man who has just beaten up goons to rousing music but a fearless writer in Bengal of the 1960s and 70s. The typewriter, pen and the printing press are Shyam Singha Roy’s (Nani) weapons. When he is offered a gun to align with the naxal movement, he chooses the pen and asserts that it is mightier than the sword. Director Rahul Sankrityan and writer Satyadev Janga make us root for a writer, a thinking hero. Even the rousing title song plays to visuals of Shyam at work in the printing press and his books turning out to be bestsellers.

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There are two worlds — one of aspiring filmmaker Vasudev Ghanta (Nani in a dual role; the surname alludes to the actor’s real surname) and that of writer Shyam Singha Roy. Vasu’s world, shot in comparatively cooler tones by cinematographer Sanu John Varghese, could be that of any new filmmaker. After quitting his IT job, he makes a low budget short film which becomes his passport to make a feature film. The production design (Anivash Kolla) dutifully fills up Vasu’s dwelling with movie posters and books on the films of acclaimed directors ranging from Satyajit Ray to Mani Ratnam. The movie making process involving Keerthi (Krithi Shetty) and friends (Abhinav Gomatam and Ankith Koyya) is filled with lines reflecting the travails of emerging filmmakers, with a tinge of humour.

The conflict arises from a legal suit after Vasu’s film becomes a success, paving the way for his discovery of Shyam. Though the most endearing portions of the film unfold in Bengal of yore, the portions leading up to it are not in vain. Vasu’s short film comes handy at a crucial moment later in the story. A sequence where Vasu fends off men who harass Keerthi becomes a tool to push the story forward. Same is the case with an intimate scene between Vasu and Keerthi. It isn’t there to play to the gallery, but to bring in another conflicting moment. In these portions, Rahul effectively subverts cliched tropes.

It might seem convenient to have Keerthi as a psychology student, given what Vasu is about to confront soon, but it works effectively and Krithi Shetty does it well.

In contrast to Vasu and Keerthi who are today’s urban youngsters, the Bengal portions introduce us to Shyam and Maitreyi aka Rosy (Sai Pallavi). Shyam is loosely modelled after reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy who were aware of their class privileges and raised their voice against religious, class and gender discrimination.

The ideals that define Shyam and how he meets Maitreyi who is confined to the devadasi tradition, unfolds like poetry. Romance blooms as the two ride away on moonlit nights to the ‘Sirivennela’ song written by late Sirivennela Sitarama Sastry, sung by Anurag Kulkarni to Mickey J Meyer’s lilting music.

Nani portrays Shyam with an innate sense of pride and effectively differentiates him from the cool dude Vasu. Shyam’s styling and body language hark back to the time of Ray and Guru Dutt and his demeanour projects his fearlessness. After
Jersey , Nani gets another chance to bite into a well fleshed out character that requires him to go the extra mile, and he does it remarkably.

Sai Pallavi never ceases to surprise. She plays Mythreyi with empathy, depicting the vulnerability as well as the desire to fly away. The ‘Pranavalaya’ song that capitalises on her dancing skills is in sync with the story.

There are gentle flourishes in the portrayal of the relationship, like Shyam cooking a meal or heeding to Mythreyi’s plea to do something for other women in the devadasi system. Shyam referencing accomplished women in arts who rose from the shadow of the system and thereby encouraging Mythreyi also augurs well.

Some of the other pivotal characters played by Madonna Sebastian, Rahul Ravindran and Murali Sharma are also crafted well. Madonna is good as the headstrong, no-nonsense lawyer and Murali Sharma echoes our thoughts when he voices his disbelief in court. As for Rahul, discussing anything would give away key moments in the story.

Though the film kept me invested, it was also too easy to connect the dots. The glimpses of a man in the wheelchair and the final reveal held no surprises. The third act boils down to Vasu following a course of events before presenting the complete picture, which happens on expected lines. The mystery surrounding Shyam could be sensed a mile away.

This isn’t to say that this is a sub par film. But with a little more thought, it could have been way smarter. Despite these niggles, there’s plenty going for
Shyam Singha Roy . We don’t often see Telugu films celebrating the power of the written word and that itself deserves to be cheered.