This is a review of Shakuntala Devi, a movie about the genius Indian mathematician
|As the name suggests, Shakuntala Devi (played by Vidya Balan) is a movie about the math genius from Karnataka who enthralled the world with her numerical abilities. The film also explores Shakuntala Devi’s turbulent relationship with her daughter, father, mother and husband.
Shakuntala Devi the movie traces the mathematician’s life and her transformation from a child in a poor Karnataka family to a superstar in the world of mathematics. Her abilities put her on par with the best and the brightest.
Loud, bold and ambitious, Shakuntala Devi is like an untamed horse let loose on the racing track. She is a non-conformist who dares to enter and dominate the world of mathematics, traditionally a male bastion. She revels in the adulation she receives and is intoxicated by success. Her relationships with men enamoured by her brilliance defy social norms. This is apparent when she advises her daughter Anupama Banerjee to find another partner as living with the same man can get boring.
Vidya Balan is a seasoned actress who does a brilliant job of playing Shakuntala Devi. She portrays how the mathematician lived life on her terms despite the pulls and pressures of society. Her experience in Dirty Picture and Mission Mangal seemed to have served her well. She is the embodiment of a feminist dream-turned- nightmare as she resolves to fight gender inequality both at home and outside. This burning desire comes not surprisingly from her own lived experiences where she was pulled out of school, denied a normal childhood and used as a golden goose by her father.
Ironically, in trying not to repeat her parents' mistakes, she goes overboard enveloping her daughter Anupama in a suffocating embrace. This makes Anupama resentful and leaves her longing for the freedom to be herself. Sanya Malhotra’s portrayal of Anupama is a brilliant performance by a rising star. When she announces in scene one that she is contemplating legal action against her mother, the audience has no choice but to remain glued to the screen for the remainder of the movie. Malhotra succeeds in playing Anupama who, quite unlike Shakuntala Devi, hates maths and abhors any comparison with her mother.
Director Anu Menon has tried to portray the black, white and grey of every character in Shakuntala Devi. To her credit, she is careful not to glorify or demonise anyone. Each character is shown playing their part as actors on a stage would. Vidya Balan refers to this Shakesperean quote in the course of the movie.
Shakuntala Devi’s personal life is not as precise as her number-crunching abilities. She is shown excelling as a mathematician but ”failing” in every other sphere. This inability to reconcile the personal with the professional is true of most successful people. However, while men have models they can emulate, women do not. The women thus end up paying a bigger price for success than men. Quite understandably, women’s personal lives are often at odds with their professional one’s. The movie proves that successful women do not inspire awe; they only end up looking like poor caricatures of their male versions.
Jishu Sengupta, who plays Shakuntala Devi’s husband Paritosh Banerjee and Amit Sadh, who plays Anupama’s partner are both portrayed as gentle, caring and supportive husbands. Possibly the Director Anu Menon, who was obviously in awe of Shakuntala Devi did not want to waste footage on the men.
The ending is a bit contrived because Anupama comes to terms with her turbulent relationship with her mother when Shakuntala Devi abruptly reverses her decision to deny Anupama her share of the property. Love is seen sinking the duo’s differences.
Shakuntala Devi is a movie that has done justice to the mathematician’s life. It is a revelation for anyone unaware of her darker side and her tough childhood.