Actor Nani called his upcoming film Shyam Singha Roy the “surprise” sandwich filling on offer this Christmas, between the release of Pushpa (December 17) and RRR (January 7), during a promotional event in Warangal. The romantic period drama film is scheduled to hit theatres on Friday (December 24). It is part of a star-studded line-up of Telugu films that are set to hit the screens in the coming weeks.
Ahead of the film’s release, the director of Shyam Singha Roy, Rahul Sankrityan, sits down for a conversation with Silverscreen India to talk about his third directorial after The End (2014) and Taxiwaala (2018).
“Shyam Singha Roy is a character worth telling a story about, and worth spending the money and time to see,” he asserts. “The film is about what happens in the life of this character, whose mother is Telugu and father is Bengali.”
The inception of Shyam Singha Roy happened in 2019 when the filmmaker met writer Satyadev Janga. The latter pitched a one-liner with the backdrop of Calcutta.
Rahul reveals that this backdrop is what excited him the most about the story. “I am a huge fan of Bengal, for many reasons. Primarily because it is rich in literature, arts and culture. Bengalis are well-read and have a huge cultural heritage.”
The filmmaker reworked the script during the Covid-19 lockdown, developing the characterisations, story, and screenplay further. “I wanted to explore what it would be like for the protagonist to be into literature. Why should heroes always be tough guys? Why cannot one be a writer and still be a hero? The moment we say someone is a writer, it is often presumed that he will be boring and not macho. I wanted to play around with that perception.”
Although Shyam Singha Roy is headlined by Nani and is named after the male protagonist, Rahul says the audience will be left with a “feminine energy” after watching it. The film features three female leads: Sai Pallavi, Krithi Shetty, and Madonna Sebastian. While Sai Pallavi plays a devadasi (a female artist offered in service to god), Shetty essays a modern-age woman and Madonna plays a lawyer.
Speaking about the cast, Rahul explains, “Nani was our first choice for the lead. Sai Pallavi’s role is the most challenging one as it needs a great deal of acting and classical dance skills. Pallavi was very involved in the project from the beginning. She used to keep track of how the writing was going and even suggested how the character would react at certain times.”
“It was only after Uppena that I saw Krithi, who is a very small girl. But after a photo shoot and an audition, we were convinced that she could pull off the character and she was brought on board. The hardest role to cast was Madonna’s. We considered about 10-12 artists for that character since it’s one that has different shades,” he adds.
Shyam Singha Roy is set in the 1970s and the filmmaker calls this “an interesting time” in Bengal and India thanks to the Naxalbari uprising, Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, and the Emergency in 1975. “It was a time when Communism was in full force and Bengal was the epicentre of it. There were real Shyam Singha Roys roaming the streets of Calcutta, rich in literature and talking about changes in society. All of these events are used as a backdrop in the film, to suggest the period.”
Pointing out that the West Bengal government recently announced Telugu as an official language of the state, Rahul says, “There is a deep connection between Bengal and Andhra and that is the origin of my main character as well.” The film incorporates a lot of Bengali culture in the dialogues, costumes, and literature references, he adds.
Shyam Singha Roy went on floors in December 2020 in Hyderabad. The film was also shot in Kolkata and Rajamundry, before being wrapped up in July.
Rahul reveals that the film’s climax was the toughest and most challenging part to shoot. It involves only two characters and a plain location, he says, adding that it is also “the most beautiful part of the film.”
Shyam Singha Roy will be released in Telugu, Malayalam, Tamil, and Kannada. Asked if they have plans to release the film in Bengali as well, the director says, “I have received messages asking us to release it in Bengali. I am still trying to figure out the logistics. We never thought this would be a pan-Indian film. We only shot it in Telugu. However, after seeing the first copy, we decided to present it to a wider audience. It also made sense since we have pan-Indian actors in it.”
Shyam Singha Roy is the last work of lyricist Sirivennela Seetharama Sastry, who died recently of lung cancer-related complications. Reminiscing about working with the late lyricist, who has written two songs for the film, Rahul says, “One of the exciting parts of this project is that it had the scope and necessity for him to work on it. Initially, I was sceptical about approaching him, but surprisingly, we became very close. Given the energy he had when we worked together, I would never have guessed that they were his last days. In fact, we had even spoken shortly before he was moved to ICU and he was very cheerful.”
After Shyam Singha Roy, Rahul says he will be working on a time-travel script, which will either be backed by Geetha Arts or Mythri Movie Makers. He is also planning to pitch a zombie film to Netflix.
This is a great time to be in filmmaking, the director feels. “These OTT platforms have opened up so many options for us and have given us the freedom to explore varied content. This improves the overall quality of cinema because it also challenges those making films for theatres to improve their quality to keep up,” he explains, adding that he is “super excited” that Shyam Singha Roy going to Netflix after its theatrical run.