Released on July 31, Shakuntala Devi, is a biopic detailing “human calculator” Shakuntala Devi’s life, behind the fame. The lead stars, Vidya Balan as Shakuntala Devi and Sanya Malhotra as Anupama Banerji were both celebrated for their incredible job done in the film. Other actors who had a notable impact on the film included Jisshu Sengupta, Amit Sadh, and more. Director Anu Menon also played a huge role in making this film a success.
To be honest, before watching the film, I didn’t know much about Shakuntala Devi. The most I knew about her consisted of the one book I read as a child authored by her. The plot definitely had its twists and turns, and covers a majority of Devi’s life. Using flashbacks, the cast portrayed the life of Shakuntala Devi in a way that helped viewers understand the reason behind her actions, personally and professionally.
I thought the plot was perfectly fine, and overall covered an intriguing story for viewers. The earlier parts of the movie focused more on Devi’s mathematics career. However, this quickly became unrealistic and didn’t portray the full picture. The flashy numbers and effects disconnected viewers from Devi as a person– as a human being. Although it was fun, we didn’t get to see the person behind the numbers at that point. We only saw how she rose to fame. The film rushed the narrative here and covered most of her childhood within minutes of the movie starting.
However, when we started to see more about Devi’s personal life, things got a lot more interesting. We received much more insight into her character and who she truly was as a person. This was instead of as the “human calculator,” or a world famous mathematician, or a comedic woman.
Throughout most of the movie though we don’t know why her daughter, Anu, is so angry with her that she would be suing her. This cliffhanger personally pushed me to keep watching until the end. The humor and lightheartedness of most of the movie was also notable.
Balan played her character with excellence and encaptured a charismatic Devi that nearly anyone would love. Unless, of course, you were her daughter.
Despite the first part of the movie being substandard in plot and character development, throughout much of the other parts, Vidya Balan and Sanya Malhotra’s acting truly shone through. The boisterous and charismatic Shakuntala Devi was portrayed in both a negative and positive light which made for an ultimately well-rounded character, which was not a devotional standpoint, but an homage. Malhotra also did an incredible job at playing Anu, who so vehemently hated her mother for the majority of the movie.
Both Anu and Shakuntala were very dynamic characters throughout the film, and through their change they exemplified such real and humanistic qualities that would resonate with audiences. The flashbacks showed the contrast between who they used to be and who they are now. In addition, supporting characters throughout the show portrayed how each character was built through their different interactions throughout the film. No matter how small the role, each one was important in building the plot up to the tipping point.
Music & Cinematography
This goes without saying. The production crew did an excellent job at producing a high quality cinematic experience. They definitely spent their time, especially at points where Shakuntala is solving math problems, in developing each scene to be perfectly filmed and edited with special effects.
There were only four songs throughout the film. Notably, Shreya Goshal in Paheli was absolutely breathtaking. However, most of the other songs were not up to as high of a standard as we might see in a different genre of film.
In Shakuntala Devi’s time, feminism was not a thing. It was rare to find someone like Shakuntala, who cared so deeply about having a say in her life. Shakuntala wanted to be a “big woman,” which was admirable. The show further explored that theme in her journey through being a mother. Shakuntala was ambitious– she wanted to be a good mother and still have her career, even if that meant leaving her husband and home behind. Her home was with her daughter and with her career, in a society where that was not accepted yet.
I remember watching Shakuntala take away her daughter from her father in the middle of the movie and immediately began hating her. What kind of mother does that? For ten years?
This is where we land at a secondary theme that is most pronounced towards the end. What makes a good mother. The plot comes to a resolution that essentially there is no definition to what makes a good mother. The love and care for one’s child is all they need. Although Shakuntala Devi took her child away, she was doing it in the name of love, for her child, and herself. And being able to do that is more valuable than anything.