Well, this is a frustrating combo. A great movie stuffed inside a limp dull modern wrapping. If you have to watch it, it’s a definite start at the interval and skip the first have kind of film.
I’ve seen enough Telugu films to know that the first half/second half divide in plot is pretty common. Gives the Hero Actor a chance to have to costumes, two heroines, two hair styles, etc. etc. Even Bahubali followed that trend. And it’s also pretty common for one of the halves to be way WAY better than the other half. But in this case it feels a little bit different to me. It’s not so much giving Nani a chance to play two characters opposite two actresses, as it feels like there is the Real movie that they Really wanted to make, but they ran out of time or money or just couldn’t convince anyone it would work, so they wrapped it up in a far inferior easier to sell movie.
A quick check at the history of production backs up my theory. They wanted to make it one of the most expensive films in history, the producer got spooked by the pandemic, and they shifted production houses mid filming and slashed the budget. The second half heroine Sai Pallavi was announced almost right from the start, the first half heroine Krithi Shetty was announced, then changed, then re-announced, sounds like it was much more last minute. And even minor first half actors, like Murali Sharma, were also announced much later. So, yeah, it was intended to be an awesome expensive historical romance featuring Nani and Sai, and then the producer pulled the funds and they had to scramble together what they could of what they had and last minute pull together a first half/present day cast to fill out the screentime.
But, if I deal with the film we have and not the film it could have been, it’s still pretty good! The less good half has an irritating heroine (I think), but some cute flirty scenes still. And Madonna Sebastian is GREAT in a not-heroine role, just playing an interesting character (very refreshing that they chose to cast an actress instead of an actor in a character role). And there’s an interesting twist on reincarnation to tie it all together. The good half is really REALLY good. So, yeah! I would watch it again! And recommend it to others! And say “this is a fine solid entertaining film, nothing spectacular, but it doesn’t always half to be spectacular”.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
Nani is a pleasant young filmmaker who is trying to make a short film. He sees Krithi Shetty in a cafe and convinces her to be his lead. They flirt and romance during filming, but when they are kissing he calls her “Rosie” instead of her name and she gets mad and storms out. He shows the short film to a producer and gets money to make his longer script. It is a blockbuster hit and will be remade in Hindi. But at the press conference, he is confronted by publishers who claim he stole all his stories. Krithi is now a psychology student and gets her cousin the lawyer Madonna to defend him. Krithi’s professor hypnotises him to learn how he knew these famous stories he claimed never to read. And he regresses to a previous life, when he was the famous author in Calcutta, Shyam Singha Roy, who wrote the stories. They present this defense in court and, thanks to his short film being based on a story that was never published, the Singha Roy family believes him. They bring him to his widow from his previous life who sees him one more time and then happily dies.
The past plot is much more exciting. Shyam is a radical communist atheist son of a high caste land owning family in Bengal. He is about to leave town for the city to be a writer when he sees a beautiful temple dancer, Sai Pallavi, at the Navratri festival. He stays in town for the 9 days and convinces her to sneap out to see him every night. He finally convinces her to run away with him, but first he kills the head priest who has been abusing the dancers every night. He goes to the city with Sai Pallavi and gets a job writing for a paper. Soon he is super successful, even starts his own press to publish his radical novels. All the profits get folded into a trust focused on saving temple dancers. And then his family invites him back home for a visit. He goes, only to have his own brothers kill him when he refuses to marry a “respectable” woman and leave Sai Pallavi.
The present day plot is certainly clever. The mixture of court case, reincarnation, plagiarism, and cross-language filmmaking is a kick. Just the little touch that his film released in Telugu wasn’t noticed, but once it got a Hindi remake it became national news and the Bengali language publishers saw it, that is interesting. But there’s no heart to it.
Arguably the point is that there is no heart to it, present day India is shallow and spoiled and blah blah versus the Noble Past. If that is the point, it needs a resolution. Our present day hero needs to acknowledge his debt to the past and how modern India is built on the shoulders of giants and so on and so forth. Alternatively (and preferred by me), we need to have our present day hero inspired by the sacrifices of the past and dedicate himself again to social service instead of shallow success and fame. I mean, supposedly he is writing these stories that were originally extreme revolutionary things. Surely if Present Day hero is making extreme revolutionary movie plots, he should feel a little more extreme revolutionary himself?
And then the past plot is all heart!!!! We barely meet our hero before he is in love, and then he is rescuing the heroine, and then they are building a happy life together, and then he is dead. SO FAST. The whole thing felt like it was setting up for a bigger plot that never happened. But I don’t really care, because what is there is so perfect.
The Temple Dancer plot is excellent. It’s the best one I’ve seen, which doesn’t mean it’s the best one that exists just the best I’ve seen. Yes, they are highly educated and respected women, not sex workers, not like naach girls at all. But on the other hand, their entire lives are controlled by the temple which makes them ripe for abuse by the priests. And just plain stunted lives, never interacting with the greater world, spending all day every day in study and worship. We see the priest arrive every night and pick out the dancer he wants. We see the little girls trapped in study inside instead of living their lives. We hear that Sai Pallavi herself was sold to the temple by her parents, no memories of them or even her name before. And finally we see Sai Pallavi stand up to the priest and decry his abuse, only for him to beat her and humiliate her. The problem is both in the one person who abuses them (the Priest), and in the whole system which leaves these women defenseless and ripe for abuse.
Rest of the plot, equally good! So many small things that work well. We see Nani and Sai Pallavi get the news that she can never have children. It’s left open to interpretation if that is because of sexual abuse from a young age, or not. What is not left open to interpretation is that Sai Pallavi is upset about this, and Nani teases her out of it by saying he should be enough for her. In a world where wives are seen as potential mothers before all, to have Nani’s character just not care, and to show them as a functioning happy couple without children, culminating in Nani REJECTING the possibility of a second wife, all of that is amazing.
Nani’s hero is good beyond just his romance. He only fights once, to kill the priest. And he does that in the middle of the ceremony in front of the whole village, very satisfying. The rest of the time he fights by writing, his heroism is typing away at a computer. And of course, spending all the profits on a charitable trust instead of finding success through buying a big house. The only possible flaw with him, is that he is flawless.
But he has to be flawless, because his section isn’t long enough to make space for character growth. And in the same way, the modern hero is super superficial and flawed because his section isn’t long enough to make space to grow better.
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As someone who does Bharathanatyam, I was very happy to know they are finally making a story about devadasi’s. Their plight is one which doesn’t get enough attention and they were really exploited. I remember reading a story about an author meeting a devadasi who was planning to hold a coming of age ceremony for her daughter and that was a story that really made me cry so much. I don’t remember the plot that well of the story however to see a big mainstream movie to finally bring light to the horrendous abuse these devadasi’s experienced is such a gratifying experience.
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There are so many ways this could have been written differently to make the initial setup quicker and then delve deeper into the main story. I kept thinking,instead of Madonna, why cdnt the lawyer have been a rebirthed Sai Pallavi and then they discover the legacy & each other. I don’t know if it wd have been as emotional/poetic as the current climax & probably they wanted it to be different from the usual reunion of reincarnated lovers. At the very least he should have been killed for a reason other than ‘family pride’. Anyways for a Telugu film, it was path breaking that they showed a heroine who wasn’t necessarily virgin & a hero who wasn’t looking for one. This deleted scene should have been kept to show what kind of a man Shyam has always been.
Or, here’s a radical idea, what if there just ISN’T A SECOND ROMANCE!!!! What if, for once, we have a hero who is going about his life without making out with some lady? That would be so poignant, wouldn’t it? He remembers this great love from his past, meets her one time as an old lady, and then is left to live alone for the rest of his life waiting to be reborn again so they can be together.
Anyway, yes, there were so many other ways it could have gone!!!! I think there may even have been a flaw in the script indicating a different ending? Way at the beginning when they first introduce the modern family, they say that 3 brothers were killed in a car accident, the nephews run the publishing house, and Shyam disappeared. But then we see the older brother seems to be sick and dying, and the youngest brother is still alive. And Shyam didn’t “disappear”, he was killed by his family and it seems like Sai Pallavi and the remaining brother would have said something about that at some point.
What would have made way more sense would be to have a new conflict start after the “Shyam Singha Roy” song, like the local politicians, or the priestly order, or something showing up to confront him. And then that becomes a whole thing and he dies heroically and secretly and so on and so forth.
On Sun, Jan 30, 2022 at 8:01 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
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Yea, even with the marketing you can sense that they cared about the Past portion more than the present. I was surprised to see the modern portion and how long it lasted, considering that the Past got more marketing meant for it than anything in the Present.
I absolutely loved the songs in this movie and the choreography. It really felt like they did their research, plus added some movie magic to it. Nani is fine in the Present portions (though the hypnotism scene is a favourite), but in the Past, as Shyam, he really shines with his restraint and then explosive, centred anger.
I love that Telugu cinema does these big, grand, historic and patriotic movies. Butt these movies also interrogate society and culture very blatantly. See Natyam, Baahubali’s, Sye Raa Reddy and I suspect others. It is just so nice to see this kind of historical stuff with their head in the right place and not be so stressed about current world stuff while watching it.
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Yes! It’s a historical, but it’s a whole different kind of historical from the ones I am used to. If you want a really fun radical historical, check out *Kayamkulam Kochunni*
On Sun, Jan 30, 2022 at 9:05 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
I personally didn’t mind the modern segment at all, although it would have been more emotionally interesting if Sai’s character had gotten to live longer. The first half frequently made me laugh, I enjoyed the filmmaking angle, and Kriti and Nani’s (abortive) one-night-stand made an interesting contrast to Sai and Nani’s much more fraught story–more so in that the film never asserts that “kids these days only have shallow relationships” or similar.
Part of it, I think, is that reincarnation movies with a flashback structure almost always show the modern portion as being easier on the characters. I don’t think it’s necessarily because of a facile teleological view that old times = hard, modern times = easy, but more the logic that if fate screwed you over in your previous birth you deserve better shakes in this one. I recently rewatched “Milan” (1967), which is a remake of a Telugu movie that I think almost certainly had to be an influence on “Shyam Singha Roy.” (It is also structured around the characters having to row across the same river every day, for instance.) In that one, Nutan and Sunil put on brave faces in response to some really nasty occurrences in Timeline no. 1. In Timeline no. 2, they’re childhood sweethearts, universally well-liked, and tie for the top score in their university exit exams. “Yeah, sorry about that last one,” said the universe ( ;
The thing about “Shyam Singha Roy” that most reminded me of old-school movies and that I DIDN’T at all expect was the courtroom drama. That’s not a trope that I particularly miss in contemporary Indian cinema, but if I have to sit through that to get to my sweet, sweet melodrama, so be it! Madonna saved those scenes for me. I liked how stern and ferocious she was, keeping everybody else in line despite also being tiny and cute as a dumpling c :
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Ooooo, I like the idea of a happy new life to make up for a sad past one!!! Certainly works for Om Shanti Om.
On Sun, Jan 30, 2022 at 11:40 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
Yep! Which is digesting the same idea from “Karz” and/or “Madhumati,” probably.
Although in Karz, his life went backwards. Present Day Rishi had a pretty sucky life.
On Mon, Jan 31, 2022 at 8:10 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
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“Alternatively (and preferred by me), we need to have our present day hero inspired by the sacrifices of the past and dedicate himself again to social service instead of shallow success and fame. I mean, supposedly he is writing these stories that were originally extreme revolutionary things. Surely if Present Day hero is making extreme revolutionary movie plots, he should feel a little more extreme revolutionary himself?”
This is such a good point and I think it would have made the movie so much better if they did this.
Also is it just me or did it feel like there was no closure to the present day romance with Krithi Shetty.
It is NOT just you!!!! The closure we got was him realizing he will be in love with Sai Pallavi forever or something? So where does that leave Krithi?
On Tue, Feb 1, 2022 at 2:24 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
Yes, exactly! The ending was so odd for me and I kind of wish they did something where Sai Pallavi was also reborn and was the modern day girl, instead of keeping Rosie alive. It would have been very similar to Magadheera but I wouldn’t have minded.
Returning here because I have thought of a stupid yet applicable phrase: instead of “brother from another mother,” “wife from another life” ; D
HA! Love it. Totally gonna use it.
On Tue, Feb 1, 2022 at 3:22 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
Really loved the falling in love section of the past movie. Just gorgeous, and seeing Sai dance classical was worth the whole movie for me. I also had a moment when she turned toward him in that last scene in her old age makeup (though definitely not looking ~65 as she would have been), her face was glowing and beautiful and I thought oh good, if Sai can actually look like that in 20 years we’ll have the pleasure of her company for a long time yet.
You can see who I’m here for :).
Nani was very heroic and charismatic. I did appreciate the movie’s feminist values and I tried not to be annoyed that it was all about him.
I watched it last night with my friends, who quite enjoyed it, but also described past-Nani as both “smug” and “can’t go anywhere without someone wanting to punch him”. Although they did appreciate his mustache game.
On Wed, Feb 2, 2022 at 11:44 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:
There are a bunch of deleted scenes on YouTube now uploaded. So much Sai and Nani stuff! I am so happy they put them up, definitely shows where their interest was but had to cut for time or pacing. I so wish this movie would get an extended director cut, just to see these in the movie – even if it would not make sense – it would be nice.
The one with Sai is a new one. So freaking good! They should have kept this scene.