Shyamchi Ayi

in Bengaluru IFF (BIFFES)

by N Manu Chakravarthy

The Marathi film “Shyamchi Ayi” directed by Sujay Dahake was declared to be the best film in the Indian Cinema (Chitrabharati) Competition, at the 15th Bangalore International Film Festival (BIFFES) held between 29th February and 7th March 2024, by the FIPRESCI Jury comprising Ms. Viera Langerova, Ms. Han Tien, and Mr. N. Manu Chakravarthy. The decision was spontaneous and unanimous.

“Shyamchi Ayi”, the film, is based on the autobiographical novel by Pandurang Sadashiv Sane also known as Sane Guruji. The locale of the film is in Konkan Maharashtra, and covers a phase of the Independence/Nationalist movement. The film carries the major thrust of the historical period quite effectively incorporating the elements of fiction and documentary without letting either of them reduce the complexity of the narrative structure of the film. The imaginative/creative qualities of the cinematic text remain intact.

What is interesting is that the historical element is blended with socio-cultural dimensions, enabling the viewers to get fine glimpses of India’s social and cultural life. In this sense the film is not a mere political text foregrounding the nationalist movement of those times, leaving out vital cultural details central to our understanding of the life of the people and the communities they are integrally related to. The politics of the film comes through its dense cultural layers, making for an expansive understanding of the cultural and political dynamics of the period. 

In a non-linear manner “Shyamchi Ayi” unfolds the story of a freedom fighter who narrates his experiences to a group of inmates in a jail. The colonial administration sentences the freedom fighters to imprisonment for violating the laws of the Government. The visuals of the film are constructed in an intimate manner giving the viewer an astonishing sense of inwardness with the context. It is through this intimacy that the political/historical elements merge into the emotional being of the characters. At the same time, the objective reality integrates with the context of the family, the source of spiritual sustenance, lending the film a serene transcendental dimension. The narrator, known as Shyam during his childhood years, gently turns to share the story of his mother, “Ayi”, the light of his inner being. It is the mother who strongly inculcates values of courage, honesty, integrity and truth. Shyam learns these as lessons for life which, even under the threat of extinction, cannot be abandoned. The film captures the ethos of an age filled with idealism, love and compassion. The mother becomes a symbol of virtue, upholding the feminine vision of history and life that the film gradually reveals before us. What is interesting is that Shyam opens up to issues of nationalism and learns to emulate the principles of the most remarkable figures of those times, namely Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Vinobha Bhave, only through the total selfless love of his mother Yashoda, the archetypal mother in Indian culture. The excellent juxtaposition of the interior world of the family with the public sphere where human beings play out their destinies as historical entities attains a universal quality that engages the serious attention of cinema lovers all over. The vivid black-and-white cinematography encapsulates the complex colours of the Indian landscape, fully restoring a vital aspect of a grand historical narrative.

By Manu Chakravarthy
Edited by Premendra Mazumder