The director – Anu Menon
cast – Vidya Balan, Sanya Malhotra, Amit Sadh, Jishu Sengupta
Shakuntala Devi lives as she laughs. She tilts her head back and removes a full-throated goffle; He has a belly laugh and is often heard in a 2-hour-10-minute biopic. Even when she is not laughing, the expression on her face shows that she is joking.
As a math genius in plaques, she would have quickly understood the value of humor. Shakuntala had a supernatural ability to dance numbers. As a girl slip, she was participating in the Maths show, supporting her family by answering tough questions. When she says ‘I never give up’, she means it.
Watch the trailer of Shakuntala Devi here
Even in a field crowded as biopics of talent, finding a woman who knows how to live a life is rare. The creatures that get their biography are tyrannical, esoteric and largely male. Their value is often recognized after they leave. Shakuntala Devi of Vidya Balan did not tick any of these boxes. She likes her saris, meditation and her intercontinental lifestyle.
The film, Shakuntala Devi, portrays the life of Maths Wizard, whose bold outline is public knowledge. A girl whose talent for mathematics was recognized at an early age, Shakuntala completed her family’s dwindling resources by showing mathematics from an early age. A radical feminist, Shakuntala lived life on her own terms before she even knew the word.
When she shoots at a Paramveer who tries to fool her, she is sent to the UK where her first love – mathematics – comes to her rescue once again. A Spanish man named Xavier teaches his English and how to live life in Europe, as he finds fame as a ‘human computer’, eventually doing his work in the Guinness Book of World Records. She marries an IAS officer named Paritosh (Jishu Sengupta), but fails to find a balance between mathematics and motherhood. Her relationship with daughter Anu (Sanya Malhotra), who wants a ‘normal’ life, forms the main conflict in the film.
Vidya Balan and Sanya Malhotra still from Shakuntala Devi.
With so much happening for the little girl in Pigtail, it is a shame that the film never takes any chances, happy with the same production Shakuntala despises herself. The film feels functional, in a race to tell us the full story of her life, which made real-life Shakuntala Devi a woman ahead of her time.
Chapter after chapter is shown, which gives you as much satisfaction as turning the pages of your math NCERT textbook, despite the attention to detail set design and period specific costumes. The melancholy-toned childhood childhood melts into the juicy colors of his youth in Britain, while the viewer does not really get to know his life.
The script is blurred by Nayanika Mehtani, co-written by director Anu Menon, Shakuntala Devi. The most important relationships of her life – especially those with the men she loved – are explained away in expository dialogues. Paritosh and Xavier get the treatment usually reserved for women in Hindi cinema – there is plenty to be done without an arc, perhaps with a song thrown at it. Even for Shakuntala, she writes a book on homosexuality in India in 1977. In a crutch-inducing scene.
Shakuntala Devi truly focuses on only two relationships of her protagonist’s life – with Mathematics and her daughter Anu, and even they find a small space, lost in the exhibition with emotions .
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Vidya Balan brings a sense of vibrancy to Shakuntala – Maths Genius who was a rock star at heart. Shakuntala is another in addition to a long line of independent, independent-thinking women who populate her filmography. Sanya is capable, but fails to match her more prolific co-star, especially when it comes to the mother-daughter conflict scenes. Both Jishu and Amit Sadh playing Anu’s husband Abhay are attractive and solid. Amit gets what is probably the best male role in the film and he does justice to it.
In defense of the film, it is not a biography. Shakuntala is not perfect. He has our flaws like the rest of the people. The film seems like a standard cradle-to-the-grave biopic in a hurry to get from point A to point B. A woman who never really understood the meaning of the word ‘normal’, Shakuntala Devi now finds a biopic that can only be described as such.