Director – Anu Menon
Cast – Vidya Balan, Sanya Malhotra, Amit Sadh, Jisshu Sengupta
Shakuntala Devi lives like a laugh. She turns her head back and comes out with a full-necked gaffe; Her is a tummy tuck and is often heard in the 2-hour-10-minute biopic. Even when she’s not laughing, the expression on her face suggests she’s in the joke.
As a math genius in plaits, she understood the value of early humor. Shakuntala had an awesome ability to make numbers dance. As a girl’s slip, she was participating in math demonstrations, supporting her family by answering tough questions. When you say “I never lose,” she means.
Watch the Shakuntala Devi trailer here
Even in a field as crowded as genius biotics, finding on a woman who knows how to live life is rare. Geniuses who get their own biopics are tortured, enigmatic and mostly male. Their worth is often recognized long after they have passed. Vidy Balan’s Shakuntala Devi doesn’t tick any of these boxes. She loves her saris, attention, and transcontinental lifestyle.
Shakuntala Devi, the film, dramatized the life of the math wizard whose dark points are public knowledge. A girl whose talent for mathematics was identified from an early age, Shakuntala supplemented the dwindling resources of her family by doing math demonstrations from an early age. A fierce feminist before perhaps she didn’t even know the word, Shakuntala lived life on her own terms.
After she shoots a paramour who tries to deceive her, she is sent to the UK where her first love – math – comes to her rescue again. A Spanish man named Javier teaches her English and the way of life in Europe, finding fame as the ‘human computer’, who eventually works her way into the Guinness Book of World Records. She marries an IAS officer named Paritosh (Jisshu Sengupta) but fails to find a balance between math and motherhood. Her testy relationship with daughter Anu (Sanya Malhotra), who wants a ‘normal’ life, forms the main conflict in the film.
Vidya Balan and Sanya Malhotra in anyway by Shakuntala Devi.
With what’s going on for the little girl in the pigtails, it’s a shame that the film never takes any chance, happy to stick to the same construct that Shakuntala herself discarded. The film feels functional, in a race to tell us the full story of her life as she skips the strokes that made Shakuntala Devi’s real life a woman ahead of her time.
Chapter after chapter is shown, which gives you as much satisfaction as turning the pages of your NCERT math book, despite the detailed design and emphasis on the specific costumes of the period. The tinted drivers of her childhood torn in poverty combine the luxurious colors of her youth in the UK without the viewer really having a look at her life.
The script by Nayanika Mehtani, co-written by director Anu Menon, Shakuntala Devi feels clear. The most important relationships of her life – especially with the men she loved – are explained away in exposure dialogues. Paritosh and Javier are given the kind of treatment usually reserved for women in Hindi cinema – just kicked out there without much of an arc, with maybe a song cast. Even something as important as Shakuntala authoring a book on homosexuality in India back in 1977 is brilliant. more than an inducing scene.
Shakuntala Devi really focuses on only two relationships of her protagonists ’lives – with math and her daughter Anu, and even they are cut short, with emotions lost in exposure.
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Vidya Balan brings a sense of vibrancy to Shakuntala – the mathematical genius who was a rock star at heart. Shakuntala is another addition to the long line of independent and thoughtless women who populate her filmography. Sanya is competent but fails to match her more illustrious co-stars, especially when it comes to the scenes of mother-daughter conflict. Both Jisshu and Amit Sadh, who plays Anu Abhaya’s husband, are charming and solid. Amit gets what is perhaps the most fleshy male role in the film and does justice to it.
In the film’s defense, it’s not hagiography. Shakuntala is not perfect. She has her imperfections like the rest of us. The film is seen in a hurry to get from point A to point B, like a cradle-to-the-grave biopic. A woman who never really understood the meaning of the word ‘normal’, Shakuntala Devi now comes up with a biopic that can only be described.
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Author tweets @ JSB17