Vidya Balan in and as Shakuntala Devi conquers the script, but the script does no justice to her acting skills. The film by Anu Menon is an absolute celebration of Devi’s life as a mathematician and mother.
Cast: Vidya Balan, Jisshu Sengupta, Sanya Malhotra and Amit Sadh
Director: Anu Menon
Anu Menon’s biopic of Shakuntala Devi, the world-renowned math wizard played by Vidya Balan, shows her romance with numbers that took her all around the world. Menon was encouraged to narrate the story through the eyes of Devi’s daughter Anupama Banerji (Sanya Malhotra) believably because daughters understand and relate to their mother’s hardships.
Shakuntala Devi was a Jedi since childhood. She helped her family earn a livelihood through her math shows. But her father didn’t find her worthy enough, probably because in the 1930s, education wasn’t considered important for girls. However, Shakuntala insisted on “badi aurat (prominent woman)” rather than “bada aadmi (prominent man)” because she had always been the soul of her family, on whom other members were dependent.
Vidya Balan, from a juvenile Devi to an adult Devi, essayed the character so effortlessly and confidently that it looked like a cakewalk.
You could see her streaming from tones of emotions, especially when she triumphs to earn her name all over the world, and yet struggle in her personal life. Here is when the script turns this math wizard’s biopic into a filmy drama, where a stubborn daughter opposes her mother’s ambition.
Sanya Malhotra doesn’t embody her performance, she appears harsh towards her character. Even the fierce dialogues wrapped with anguished emotions turn to portray her as a comic character.
Trust me, you’ll find yourself laughing instead of feeling her emotions when she delivers an angry dialogue. Unlike other daughters who admire and adore their mothers, Anupama is irked by her mother’s ambition, because of which her childhood is different from the ‘normal’ childhood of other kids. All she wants is to lead her life like a ‘normal’ woman and be happily married.
Shakuntala Devi was much more than a math genius. She was an astrologer, a prodigious politician, and author of World of Homosexuals and many other books. But such events are frantically accelerated in the film and make the film lose its focal point. Why was Shakuntala Devi a great woman and what was she like? These and more such questions are unquoted in Menon’s film. The poor screenplay hijacks the average script and the film nubs the vivacity of Devi’s role as a human-computer.
Jisshu Sengupta and Amit Sadh as Devi’s spouse and son-in-law respectively are apparently not the men we see in a regular Hindi film. They believe a woman’s identity isn’t confined to household chores. They support the women in their lives and have faith in their abilities. “Vidya kasam (swear on education)”, the most reiterated dialogue of the film, sets an equilibrium that Vidya’s performance is the golden sword of the film that could make the film a success.
This biography does not whitewash the image of its protagonist. The movie aptly displays that unlike Kalidasa’s Shakuntala, Shakuntala Devi wasn’t the perfect woman. Her imperfections are in contrast to her perfect mathematical skills. She bears that feminine ego when her daughter learns to mumble “Baba” as the first word instead of “Maa” because she had brought the child into this world bearing a painful childbirth.
“Jab amazing ho sakti hun, toh normal kyun banu (When I can be amazing, why be normal)?” Devi teaches everyone not to become complacent at being ‘normal’ when they can be ‘amazing’.
Anu Menon may not be giving a respite to the audience with her debut film, but considering this is her first movie in the Hindi cinema, that too a biopic, and one without exaggeration, it does encourage more women-centric stories in future.