director – Anu Menon
Starring – He saw Balan, Sanya Malhotra, Amit Sad, Jishu Sengupta
Shakuntala Devi lives as she laughs. She tilts her head back and unleashes a full throat. hers is a belly laugh and is often heard in the 2-hour 10-minute biography. Even when she’s not laughing, the look on her face suggests she’s joking.
As a genius in leash math, she would understand the value of humor in the beginning. Shakuntala had an extraordinary ability to make tricks dance. As a girl, she participated in math shows, supporting her family by answering difficult questions. When she says, “I never lose,”
Watch the Shakuntala Devi trailer here
Even in a field as crowded as a biography of geniuses, it is rare to find a woman who knows how to live life. Geniuses who obtain their own biographies are tortured, mysterious, and largely male. Their value is often recognized long after they are gone. Vidya Balan’s Shakuntala Devi does not place any of these boxes. She likes saris, attention and a transcontinental lifestyle.
Shakuntala Devi, the film, dramatizes the life of a mathematician magician whose bold outlines are public knowledge. A girl whose talent for mathematics was identified at a young age, Shakuntala supplemented her family’s dwindling resources by performing mathematical performances from an early age. A fierce feminist, before perhaps even knowing the word, Shakuntala lived life on her own terms.
After filming in a paramilitary that tries to deceive her, she is sent to Britain, where her first love – mathematics – comes to the rescue again. A Spaniard named Javier taught her English and the way of life in Europe, as she found fame as the “human computer” and eventually made her way into the Guinness Book of World Records. She married a clerk named Paritosh (Jishu Sengupta), but failed to find a balance between mathematics and motherhood. Her test relationship with her daughter Anu (Sanya Malhotra), who wants a “normal” life, forms the main conflict in the film.
He saw Balan and Sanya Malhotra in silence from Shakuntala Devi.
With so many things for the girl in pigtails, it is a pity that the film never takes any chances, happy to adhere to the same constructions that Shakuntala herself despises. The film feels functional, in a race to tell us the whole story of her life as she skips the blows that made Shakuntala Devi a real-life woman before her time.
A chapter after chapter is displayed that gives you as much satisfaction as turning the pages of your NCERT math textbook, despite the detailed design and focus on period-specific costumes. The sepia hue of her childhood in poverty merges into the lush colors of her youth in Britain, without the viewer really getting an idea of her life.
The screenplay by Nayanika Mehtani, co-written by director Anu Menon, Shakuntala Devi feels unwell. The most important connections in her life – especially with the men she loved – are explained far and wide in the dialogue dialogues. Paritosh and Javier receive treatment, usually reserved for Hindi women at the cinema – just put there without much rainbow, with perhaps a song thrown inside. Even something as important as Shakuntala, author of a book on homosexuality in India in 1977, was enlightened in the sloppy scene.
Shakuntala Devi really focuses on only two connections in the lives of her main characters – with math and her daughter Anu, and even they get a brief breakdown, with emotions lost in the exhibition.
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Vidya Balan brings a sense of vitality to Shakuntala, the genius mathematician who was a rock star at heart. Shakuntala is another addition to the long line of independent, free-thinking women who complete her filmography. Sanya is competent, but fails to match her more famous colleague, especially when it comes to mother-daughter conflict scenes. Both Jishu and Amit Sad, who plays Anu Abhaya’s wife, are charming and solid. Amit gets what is perhaps the densest male role in the film and does so fairly.
In defense of the film, this is not hagiography. Shakuntala is not perfect. It has its imperfections like all of us. The film seems quick to get from point A to point B, like a standard biop from swing to grave. A woman who never understood the meaning of the word “normal”, Shakuntala Devi now receives a biography that can only be described in this way.
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The author tweets @ JSB17