While Sri Lanka is experiencing a revolutionary struggle against the prevailing socio-political turmoil which has disrupted the ordinary flow of life, I believe that it is imperative to stick to the core values of it – love, peace and non-violence – to realise the future society that we dream of. Hence, here I am revisiting the chapters of the drama film released in 2021, Shyam Singha Roy, with a focus on the revolution presented in it.
The film is basically a story of reincarnation, cliché indeed, of a revolutionary writer and a social reformer who lived in West-Bengal in 1960’s and 70’s. The plot unveils from the present where Vasu, an aspiring filmmaker is sued for so-called plagiarism as soon as he finds his foothold in the film industry. In the attempt to prove his innocence, Vasu is hypnotised to reveal the story of Shyam Singha Roy.
Shyam’s story, and the whole film, can be summed up in two words, love and revolution. Voiced through Shyam’s words, “In this world, things can be get done in two ways; either by fear (force) or love.” Rahul Sankrityan, the director of the film, chooses ‘love’ to be the medium of revolution in the film. However for Shyam, love itself becomes a struggle in the highly orthodox society as he loves not an ordinary girl, but a devadasi – a maiden devoted to God –named Mayithri. As soon as Shyam realises the cruelty of the devadasi system, where young maidens are restricted to go anywhere outside the Kovil premises and abused by the so-called priests behind the curtains of ‘devotion and sacrifice’, he starts the struggle to liberate Mayithri from the shackles of it. Shyam lets her taste love and freedom slowly bringing her to realise the oppression she is under, giving her the strength to finally stand against the oppression.
The greater struggle of Shyam is against the whole social system where discrimination based on caste, class and gender crushes humanity. The discrimination is so deep-rooted that the ‘low-castes’ are kept in thirst since they are not allowed even to touch the only well in the
island-village where Shyam lives. Shyam’s rebel in this context is just not to provide a temporary relief to the oppressed but to fight against the whole crooked system. This is symbolised when Shyam puts a man of the lower caste into the not-deep well, instead of giving him a bucket of water. So, now the well, being tainted, he challenges the high castes to drink its water or die in thirst otherwise.
The film depicts Shyam’s perfect understanding of the inability to address the issues of a deeply cracked society with mere physical acts of struggle. Thus he selects ‘pen’ as his weapon. Shyam’s revolution is metaphysical and intellectual. Demonstrating his belief in the power of literature and the need of a creative, non-violent revolution, in a scene where he encounters Maoist groups, Shyam says, “A bullet addresses one man but the pen addresses millions of them”. Since then, he starts the struggle with his radical writing, backed by a publisher with a heart of gold who, accommodates and supports Shyam and Mayithri.
The significance of Shyam’s struggle is that he himself tries to create the change that he craves for in small steps. Meanwhile, Shyam establishes a home for devadasi women who leave the Kovil to come under his and Mayithri’s care. Also, proving his words, Shyam’s writings create a huge impact in the society, opening the eyes of many against the corruption, discrimination and oppression.
True that there are instances where Shyam himself becomes aggressive going against his principal of non-violence. However, it does not disprove the power of non-violent struggle. It is rather an authentic portrayal of human nature. We, mundane humans are quickly provoked and driven by impulses by our very nature, which was apparent during the past few days in Sri Lanka. Thus, the real struggle is to have control over ourselves and stick to our principals. So re-iterating Shyam’s words, “In this world, things can be get done in two ways; either by fear (force) or love.” I suggest my fellow comrades to struggle and revolt with love and compassion in order to achieve the non-violent society we dream of.
By Induwara Athapattu