What: Vidya Balan in and as Shakuntala Devi – the biographical account of the mathematician genius, writer and astrologer Shakuntala Devi is the best biopic to come in recent years in Bollywood mainstream.
Shakuntala Devi synopsis
The incredibly inspiring life story of the Indian mathematician genius, writer, astrologer – the Human computer Shakuntala Devi is adapted for the screen by Anu Menon and Nayanika Mahtani.
Born in Bengaluru, Karnataka to a Kannada Brahmin family. Young 8-year-old Shakuntala (Araina Nand) is a god gifted genius, the prodigy in maths started solving toughest puzzles at a very young age. Looking at the extraordinary talent of her younger daughter, the elder Anu (Chahat Tewani) being physically challenged. Shakuntala’s father played by Prakash Belawadi starts taking her to shows in schools etc where Shakuntala displays her rare extraordinary talents and earns money. She soon becomes the bread earner of the family and later attains world fame as Shakuntala Devi (Vidya Balan) – The Human Computer and enters the Guinness World Records. But life has its turns. The movie actually begins with Anupama Banerji (Sanya Malhotra) daughter of Shakuntala Devi filing a criminal case against her world-famous mother. Why the daughter of a genius is against her own mother. All is correct in numbers then what went wrong with Shakuntala Devi as a person. All this is told in the rest of the movie in due course moving from back to forth.
Shakuntala Devi movie review
Gifted actors like Vidya Balan have knack to get into the skin of the characters instantly, but here in Shakuntala Devi there is something overwhelmingly rare.
Anu Menon and Nayanika Mahtani’s dramatization of the genius Shakuntala Devi for screen apart from the highly uplifting rags to riches saga, is equally a human story, a triumph of womanhood, a toast to motherhood, journey of a child to a daughter to a mother.
Writer director Anu Menon along with her co-writer Nayanika Mahtani ensure that the biopic of Shakuntala Devi doesn’t turn into a hagiography. The genius who never goes wrong with her numbers falters as a person. She is bold, independent, ambitious, successful and knows what she wants but at times she knowingly /unknowingly miscalculates and suffers.
The human angle and conflict in the life and relationships of Shakuntala Devi makes this biopic as the most enriching experience in recent times on screen.
We have had Neerja, Paan Singh Tomar, Bhaag Mikha Bhaag, (am talking about the commercial Bollywood mainstream) before, now Shakuntala Devi enters the league with more applause due to its human conflict.
A woman with no proper academic education, solves all mathematical problems, she even pens a book on homosexuality - World of Homosexuals (the first study of homosexuality in India) turns astrologer travels world but her daughter wants her to be ‘normal’.
Shakuntala Devi was way ahead of her time, she is a dignified flagbearer of an independent women. She faltered but never altered her dreams and ambitions.
The movie is also a message on dreams and ambition and a statement on ‘perfect’ parenthood.
Vidya Balan is a seriously strong contender for all the major awards in the acting department. She completely owns Shakuntala Devi and delivers a powerful portrait in a performance that is perfectly nuanced offering a spectrum of emotions.
Sanya Malhotra as the daughter excels. Her concerns are human and very ‘normal’ she strongly adds value to the movie.
Jisshu Sengupta as Paritosh Banerji Shakuntala's husband is brilliant.
Amit Sadh in a shorter but significant role as Ajay - Anupama's husband is fantastic as the calm composed and understanding guy.
Prakash Belawadi as Shakuntala's father is competent.
Good support comes from Luca Calvani, Sheeba Chaddha, Araina Nand (8-year-old Shakuntala), Spandan Chaturvedi (12-year-old Shakuntala, Chahat Tewani as Anu.
Production values are top notch. Cinematography by Keiko Nakahara is a treat for the eye and the movie looks colourful. Production Design by Meenal Agarwal and Vintee Bansal is apt. Set decoration by Harshvardhan Purohit transports the audience to the era. Shalaka Bhosle hair style and make up by Vikram Gaikwad and Shreyas Mhatre is fine.
Music by Sachin–Jigar is functional while the background score by Karan Kulkarni adds to the momentum.
Flaws in Shakuntala Devi movie
Some vital facts from the real life are omitted. Like, Shakuntala Devi’s father worked as trapeze artist, lion tamer, tightrope walker, and magician in a circus. But that fact is omitted from the movie. The homosexuality angle is not delved further.
Scene that should have been deleted at once
The romantic dance between Vidya Balan and Jisshu Sengupta
Any memorable scene/dialogue/moment
The confrontation between Vidya Balan and Jisshu Sengupta. The climax, the moment when the Shakuntala as a child solves the first puzzle. Moments between Vidya Balan and Sanya Malhotra
Shakuntala Devi is a highly uplifting biopic which is not at all shy in admitting the flaws of its central character. An emotional mother daughter story, a statement on women empowerment and independence. A rich and insightful cinematic experience. All in one. Going with an extra for the all correct ‘Vidya’. Vidya Kasam.