The last time I watched ‘Shyamchi Aai’, it made me laugh and brought tears to my eyes, and made me rush towards my mother to hug her as she returned from work. Ten years later, I had changed, but I could see the depths and details of the movie better and this is my account of what I learnt from and loved in the Marathi master piece, ‘Shyamchi Aai.’
At the outset, Shyam seems like a regular school going child, exuberant and mischievous. He loves to create havoc in school much to the chagrin of his teachers. He is curious and not afraid to question authority. Mind you, he is not a child who does not respect older people or our customs; he is a child who has been raised to question things which do not seem to be in coherence with his moral understanding. He is the leader for the children in his class, whatever he says they follow, and why not, Shyam is a brave kid with a voice full of sense and plausibility, that it is next to impossible to ignore him. The opening scenes describe Shyam’s life full of fun and frolic and adventure, they make the viewer smile, reminding the kids about their similar acts in school or making a 60 year old reminisce memories. Shyam has is the middle child and has two brothers. His is a joint family archetypal of those days. Their father is a person of strong character and a devout follower of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. His mother is a simple woman, but she is not simpleton. She epitomizes the integrity and the dedication of the Indian woman to her family as she strives to raise her children in a family faltering on the economic grounds.
As the story progresses, we see how Sane Guruji, the writer of this autobiographic film, creates a drama which is also a social commentary dealing with myriad themes, relevant till now. Acharya P. Atre, the director of the movie, keeps the movie simple and lucid to understand, never does the movie become too preachy in its tone. We see, Shyam’s father being attacked by some thieves who leave him unharmed thinking about his kids. It’s nice to see, how wonderfully the movie portrays that it is circumstance which leads people on the wrong way and it’s not the people who are wrong. This point is bought up time and again in the movie, as the family suffers to make ends meet, bicker and quarrel with each other, only to realise their mistakes that they still have each other and their love for each other, something which money can never buy. The scene where the mother in law and Shyam’s mother console each other after their minor tiff makes you realise the true strength of family support.
Shyam’s family is deep in debt and the two younger siblings demand a division of property and separate with their own stakes. Shyam’s father falters with the weight of raising a family and paying the debt. We see, how the movie points out that greed binds you to material desires and leads to the splitting in the previously happy joint family. Joint families have become rare now, but whether or not the nuclear archetypes are happier and more efficient functionally is still a prominent question. The family continues to struggle; they build their own humble abode. Shyam’s friends mock him for living in a hut and he says,’ He lives with his parents and wherever his parents live, it would be heaven for him.’
Madhav Vaze as Shyam delivers a master stroke performance and Acharya P. Atre deserves all the credit for getting such a nuanced and impressive performance from an urchin. He makes you laugh and makes your heart wrench out in his misery, he is more than convincing as ‘Shyam’. In one scene, Shyam steals money from his uncle and is caught. His mother is ashamed and hurt but doesn’t beat the boy, a reaction expected from any mother despite the time she lives in. Instead, she consoles her crying child and shows him the right way by teaching him a prayer. There is a scene where she does beat Shyam; it is when he refuses to go to swim, only so to make her children bold and brave. We see Shyam’s father being sent to jail as he supports Lokmanya Tilak. Shyam’s father modestly accepts that he was a small person and he was doing his bit for the freedom struggle, the movie subtly reminds us about our duties towards our mother land and depicts the national fervor at that time. Shyam’s mother forgets to add salt to the food but the family doesn’t complain, they praise her and even Shyam’s younger brother keeps mum, just to appreciate her hard work. This scene exudes sweetness without being schmaltzy and is highly evocative of the strength of one’s family. In one scene, Shyam helps out an aged untouchable lady and the priest curses him to which Shyam cleverly corners him quoting the saints who asked not to discriminate with the fellow humans. The movie plots out the India during those times without any bias but teaches us to be unbiased in outlook and action, a lesson for all the generations to come. The movie makes you laugh, makes you fall in love with Shyam and his world and it breaks your heart to see his family suffer and come to terms with their adversity. The movie entertains and enriches our thoughts however; the climax would leave you heartbroken.
Some might consider Shyam highly devoted to his parents and precocious at times. He is brighter than the average kid and the reason for that is his mother’s upbringing. Vanamala breathed life into the character of Shyam’s mother on screen and outlined the mother’s character for thespians and film makers of future generations. The black and white cinematography is simplistic in nature. The movie enhanced by the melodious tunes of Vasant Desai. The movie is the first Indian film to be awarded The First National Award then known as Golden Lotus Award for The Best Film in 1954. The themes it deals with are still relevant and the film needs to be re-visited by generations to come for the wisdom it offers. If you ever get an opportunity to see this rare gem, then go ahead and watch it, its slow pace and simplicity and its warm and endearing characters would grow over you and who knows by the end of the movie, you might also grow as person.