Remembering the characters of Nani and Sai Pallavi in Shyam Singh Roy (2021) on the occasion of the film's first anniversary
At the beginning of the film, we see a motionless boat set aflame on the moving waters. In the blaze of what seems like a Norse-style funeral, lay two metallic brass anklet bells placed over a sheet of paper that has lines encompassing the transcendental love and longing of a woman for her love:
Marananiki atuvaipu nuvvu, ituvaipu nenu…
Ninu thaakina prathi chandra kiranam adigindi “Aa suryudu ekkadani?”
Ee nadi gnapakallo nuvvinka pravahisthune unnavani cheppanu
(You on the other side of death, Me on another…
Every ray of the moonlight that touched you, asked “Where is sunshine?”
I showed them the river waters and said there you are, flowing in it’s memories)
If one could feel what the man means to the woman in her words, then one can’t miss to discern what the woman is to the man in the unfolding of the title itself. His name, Shyam Singha Roy, emerges from the flames that engulf her anklet bells, indicating the spiritual significance of Rosie in his life.
Shyam Singha Roy (Nani) and Maitreyi (Sai Pallavi) are like two great works of a same novelist. They’re different on cover and character, but hold the same spirit. They come from different regions, hail from different family backgrounds, grow up in different societal setups, develop different personalities, have different perceptions of the world and hold different aspirations in life. The distinction in their characters can be subtly felt even before we’re taken into their story — in the clinical hypnosis episode, when the psychology professor asks him “Who is Rosie?”, a soothing nostalgic melody plays in the background as Shyam responds, “Amor Stree (My Wife)”, in his plangent voice, whereas a powerful score turns up when he utters his own name.
Fearless, free-spirited and humane, Shyam Singha Roy is born into a Bengali-Telugu bourgeoisie family in Kalikapur village of West Bengal. His progressive ideologies and rebellious demeanour make him seem like a revolutionary and a fighter, which he is, but his path is different. He believes in the power of words and he aspires to awaken people through his writings, reminiscing us of the ideals of literary geniuses like Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Manik Bandopadhyay, Gurram Jashuva, and many more. He reads Tagore, watches Satyajit Ray, reflects the beliefs of Rammohan Roy, is surrounded by Karl Marx, and even gets a letter from Sri Sri when he becomes an influential writer and social reformer later in life.
A torch-bearer of freedom and feminism in the 1970s India, Shyam is not the one to stop or be stopped by anyone or anything. But he does come to a standstill when he encounters Maitreyi. It’s not her, it’s the people’s reverence towards her that freezes him. That’s where an atheist sees a Goddess in a woman swaying gracefully to the divine rendition of ‘Pranavalaya’. And for Maitreyi, that stage is the only place on earth for her to be free, and to be herself. So in a way, Shyam witnesses her true self at the first sight itself, but she is a different person off stage and has a life far from that of his’.
Artistic, compassionate and innocent, Maitreyi leads the life of a devadasi, oppressed in the confinement of the temple walls and a wicked Mahant. She harbours dreams as well as the fears that stop her from realising those dreams. Sold off by her own parents for their survival, Maitreyi underestimates her own worth and endures a life less than what she desires or deserves. However, one thing that she doesn’t epitomise is being a damsel in distress. She is strong and capable, but just not aware how much. Shyam triggers that awareness in Maitreyi. He becomes that ray and rope of hope for her to break the shackles of enslavement and live a life of her choice. If Maitreyi wished to see the world outside, Shyam made her take the first step.
Shyam instils confidence in her by taking the names of the greats like MS Subbalakshmi and Tanjore Balasaraswati who hailed from the Devadasi tradition and still made it big in life, by making a choice. To do what one ‘wants’ to do. Shyam nowhere tries to become a knight in the shining armour for Rosie, but he tries enough to make her the knight of her own life and that’s why he’s different.
Most importantly, he sees her for who she really is and in fact rechristens her as ‘Rosie’, symbolising a rose which depicts beauty and happiness despite being surrounded by thorns.
Rosie makes a choice and, as promised, Shyam stands by her. He continues to. However, becoming a part of Rosie’s life doesn’t stop Shyam from going about his own. He moves to Calcutta along with Rosie and pursues his literary ambitions. Shyam’s power-filled writings soon make their way into the hands of people, in stores, trams, canteens, colleges and even offices. He soon becomes a force to reckon with, during which Rosie intervenes and reminds him of the very cause that he impelled her to fight for. She makes her thoughts heard through his voice and he finds a mission in her vision.
Even though they were destined to suffer a fate not of their choice, they still lived in spirit for each other and with each other. Like fire and water, sun and moon, ether and earth, canvas and colour, Shyam and Rosie are still complete in their independence, but they are incomplete without dependence. The symbolism of that incompleteness was beautifully depicted using Rosie’s anklet bells.
It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that Shyam and Rosie are like those unforgettable characters straight out of a Ray or Tagore’s poetic works. Last but not the least, if not for Nani and Sai Pallavi, who played Shyam and Rosie, you wouldn’t be reading this at all. For making us feel what it’s like to love and being loved, beyond the physical realm, these two characters deserve a place in the history of cinema.
Updated date: Monday, 27 Mar 2023 - 11:59 AM