Cast: Vidya Balan, Sanya Malhotra, Jisshu Sengupta, Amit Sadh
Director: Anu Menon
Review: Widely known as the ‘Human Computer’ Shakuntala Devi was an exceptional math genius who solved the complex 23rd root of a number which consisted of 201 digits in 50 seconds. Her remarkable journey of solving complex math problems at a very young age won her admiration throughout the world.
She gained a place in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1982 for her mathematical skills, stood in an election against Indira Gandhi, was deeply interested in astrology, and wrote a book on homosexuality. She not only explores her mesmerizing enthralling relationship with numbers, but her life bound as a mother and an independent woman.
At the mere age of three, Devi’s father discovered that her daughter was a mathematical genius. With no formal education, an exploitative father, and a submissive mother who never stood for her, made her resent. She vowed to become an independent woman, unafraid of the societal norms.
Despite the adversities she faced, Shakuntala Devi grew up to be a bold, dynamic, and independent young woman during the ’50s. We see her acclimating in England, speaking broken English, wearing sarees with pigtails, and flaunting her mathematical skills.
The fact that she did not believe in the societal distinctions between men and women gave her the courage and determination to give clap-worthy performances across the globe. However, not all is perfect in her personal life.
In a pivotal scene, where her daughter, Anupama, asks her to be normal, she says, ‘Why should I be normal, when I can be amazing?’ In another scene, we see her daughter determined to pursue a criminal case on her. The film explores the more human side of this seemingly perfect human computer.
While the film focuses on her marvelous and outstanding stage performances during the Math Shows, it also rifles through the problematic relationships she had with her parents. Exceeding annoyance towards her mother for not standing up to her father when needed, this biographical drama also showcases the strained, stressful relationship of Shakuntala Devi with her daughter.
The entire film depicts that even though Shakuntala Devi had a seamless connection with numbers, she often struggled to anticipate the issues of her personal life. The movie delicately balances the maths prodigy ‘Shakuntala Devi’ and the troubled wife and anguished mother ‘Shakuntala Devi’. The strained relationship she had with her beloved daughter is the focus of the film, especially in the 2nd half.
The first part of the movie is quite interesting as it keeps the audience glued with fun and entertaining narratives. Fantastic screenplay by Anu Menon and Nayanika Mahtani captures the interest of the audience when Devi solves the complex mathematical equations with effortless grace. But, the real story begins in London in 1950, where the fascinating Shakuntala Devi starts doing stage shows while fighting through the odds.
The outstanding makeover in terms of improving her English speaking skills, which her Spanish friend Javier (Luca Calvani) gave, made her a whole new person. This beguiling transformation made her the talk of the town. While basking in her hard-earned success, she finds love in Paritosh Banerjee (Jisshu Sengupta). Never to let go of an opportunity, she lays down the marriage proposal and soon after has a beautiful baby girl.
The story takes a dramatic turn when Devi struggles to accept motherhood without stage performances. Vidya Balan embodied Shakuntala Devi in every possible way, and her marvelous acting skills shine when the script falls short. The film depicts Shakuntala Devi’s husband, Paritosh, in a positive light, enabling her to get back to the world she belongs.
Director Anu Menon successfully portrays a powerful and enthralling woman, whose very existence defied the societal barriers and rigid rules of patriarchy in the 1900s. However, at times, the narration feels rushed, and the huge milestones simply glossed over. Various facets of her life, including her contesting elections and advocating for gay rights in 1977, was barely given a nod. There is a slight tonal shift in the movie that struggles between breezy, dramatic, and emotional tones.
Kudos to Niharika Bhasin, who did a splendid job in depicting Shakuntala Devi throughout the various time periods. The duo Sachin-Jigar provided some peppy soundtracks. ‘Jhilmil Piya’ is one of the lingering tracks that have been soulfully sung by Benny Dayal and Monali Thakur, along with Priya Saraiya, who penned the lyrics.
Another song, ‘Maa Paheli’ is portrayed around the eccentric bond shared by Shakuntala Devi and her daughter. This soulful, emotionally expressive melody is sung by Shreya Ghoshal, composed by Sachin – Jigar, and penned by Priya Saraiya. ‘Maa Paheli’ is an ode to all the brave mothers and wonderful daughters in the world who share a relationship of love, friendship, and sacrifice.
The unquestionable acting skills of Vidya Balan made Shakuntala Devi even more relatable. Jisshu Sengupta’s role of Paritosh did an outstanding job of being a sensitive, supporting, and understanding husband. Along with that, Amit Sadh’s limited role as a supportive husband of Anupama created a massive impact on the audience’s mind. Sanya Malhotra, although older than Anupama in real, was excellent in the portrayal of the disturbed and enraged daughter.
When Ishita Moitra, as little Shakuntala Devi said, ‘aadmi kyu, main toh duniya ki sabse badi aurat banke dikhaungi’ it brought out the rebel inside Shakuntala Devi. The optimistic zeal of the film refrains from the feeling of monotony. Keeping aside the limited stereotypes, it is an entertaining family movie, everyone can enjoy it and will no doubt bring a twist in our boring and monotonous life in which we all are currently.