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A story of love and revolt

While browsing YouTube, I stumbled upon a song, “Pranavalaya.” The music, Anurag Kulkarni’s mellifluous vocals, the visuals, and the dance blew my mind. Sai Pallavi is such a graceful dancer that it’s impossible to look away. The song is from the 2021 Telugu hit, “Shyam Singha Roy.” It is a love story of a couple that breaks societal boundaries, goes against familial pressures, and transcends lifetimes.

Vasudev Ghanta (Nani) is an aspiring filmmaker, who hires psychology student Keerthi (Krithi Shetty), as the lead for a short film. During the shoot, the two fall in love.  Impressed by his short film, a producer asks him to make it into a full-length feature. A year later, the film “Uniki” goes on to become a roaring success. As a Bollywood producer announces the Hindi remake of the movie, Vasu is arrested. 

A publishing company had filed a copyright infringement lawsuit stating that “Uniki” had been plagiarized from a 50-year-old Bengali novel, written by Shyam Singha Roy.  Vasu claims he is innocent and that the stories are his own. At Keerthi’s behest, he undergoes hypnotherapy. There he learns of his previous life as Shyam Singha Roy (also Nani) and his love for Rosie, a devadasi.

The rest of the story outlines their struggles against the systemic oppression of  devadasis, the changing political landscape, and Vasu’s struggles to prove his innocence.

Nani and Sai Pallavi bring the love alive

Nani and Sai Pallavi are the lead pair in Shyam Singha Roy. (Photo credit: Twitter)

This is my first Nani film, and his fandom is justified. Nani (of “Eega” fame) is a competent actor who effortlessly switches between expressions, characters, and body language. Vasu and Shyam are very different people and at no point will the viewer conflate the two.

Where he slips is when he switches from Telugu to Bangla; being a native speaker, I could easily tell he was in unfamiliar territory. But his effort is impressive. I have seen worse enunciation of Bangla in some Bollywood films.

Sai Pallavi was perfectly cast for the role of Maithreyi/Rosie. She goes from being scared, vulnerable, and defiant, to happy, proud, and eventually at peace. She doesn’t speak much but her eyes can narrate an entire novel.

Sai dances like a dream. There is a scene where Rosie is dancing for joy. All her life, she has performed for others and is on command. In that scene, she is dancing just for herself. She is simply marvelous.

A competent supporting cast

While the supporting cast has limited screen time, they do the job. Although Krithi Shetty’s role is nothing more than that of a facilitator, she brings a vibrant charm to it. Her sequences generate some laughs. I wanted to see more of Jisshu Sengupta and ManishWadhwa, two skilled actors limited to one-dimensional roles. Madonna Sebastian, who plays the plucky lawyer, Padmavati, deserves a lead role.

Love finds a beautiful canvas

The song “Pranavalaya” is a gem. The other soundtracks, composed by Mickey J. Meyer, are melodious, original, and soothing. Cinematographer Sanu John Varghese’s camera lovingly pans across the expansive sets and locales. Under Debashish Das’s art direction, Kolkata’s streets and the temple come alive. The movie also gave several nods to one of cinema’s and Bengal’s greatest, Satyajit Ray.

Patchy screenplay saps narrative

Some very important parts in the movie are shown in montages. We see a montage of Vasu making the film, it becoming a blockbuster, and him getting an offer from Bollywood. Likewise, we are also shown Shyam going from being a laborer at a press to a successful author and revolutionary, all in a montage. We never get to fully connect with the successes of these characters. It takes most people a lifetime to achieve so much success; to See Vasu and Shyam attain it all with such ease feels disingenuous.

We never learn what Shyam’s hugely popular books are about. We know what Vasu’s short film was about, but only see a couple of disjointed scenes for “Uniki”, the blockbuster that lands him in a copyright infringement case. Because of this “tell-don’t-show” narrative, the viewers never quite connect with these critical events.

My main gripe is the inconsistent legality. Vasu is arrested and brought to court for plagiarism. He faces imprisonment and a steep fine. But Shyam brutally murders a man in front of a whole temple full of people, and he doesn’t face a single police officer. Later, Shyam is murdered in the presence of a witness, but no one files a missing person’s report, let alone murder charges.

Despite the patchy screenplay, I did enjoy the movie. There was something endearing and beautiful about Shyam and Rosie’s love. A perfect film for the festival of love.

Aindrila Roy

Aindrila Roy is a stay-at-home mom with her fingers in many pies. She writes, reads, makes jewelry, sings, dances and is a huge Paleontology nerd. Her book, I See You, was self-published on Amazon. She...