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Shakuntala Devi review: The maestro and the mom!

A brilliant, soulful performance by Vidya Balan bring Shakuntala Devi to life on-screen

Source: SIFY

By: Sonia Chopra

Critic's Rating: 3/5

Monday 03 August 2020

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Movie Title

Shakuntala Devi review: The maestro and the mom!

Director

Anu Menon

Star Cast

Vidya Balan, Amit Sadh, Sanya Malhotra, Jisshu Sengupta

If you think of a film about a mathematical genius, you want to watch their journey and a peek into their extraordinary mind. Sure, the film can humanize the legend (who superseded a computer) and show parts of their personal life. But to turn the film into a saga about personal relationships is not only an opportunity missed but also problematic.  

It’s like making a film on a sports legend, only to delve into their family equations rather than the mastery with which they played the sport.  

In Shakuntala Devi, the tone is almost like— yes, she was a mathematical maestro and was successful and rich, but here’s what happened with her family life.  

In fact, the film opens with the daughter and the finale is all about their relationship.  To take the story of a person with such a rare talent and turn it into a mother-daughter hyper-emotional drama seems inexcusable.  

And melodramatic it is, in several parts. For starters, one doesn’t understand the motivations of either character. The mother (Shakuntala Devi) oscillates wildly between being insensitive (taking her kid from one show to the other) and overly indulgent (funding her daughter’s business). The daughter Anupama’s displeasure with the mother seems exaggerated (she goes to the extent of saying— ‘my only ambition is not to become like you’). And the finale is incomprehensible because the entire skirmish (involving lawyers) turns out to be something that could have been solved with one phone call.  

Other melodramatic scenes include a chat show where Devi ‘sees’ the altercation with her daughter on the computer screen and falters on the answer. Naturally, someone comments that ‘the human-computer has crashed’. A pregnant character’s water breaks right after a big argument.  

Directed and co-written by Anu Menon, the film comes alive when we see Devi’s passion for math and her conducting the live shows. Indeed, the bright side of the film is Shakuntala Devi herself. And the brilliant, soulful performance by Vidya Balan. The math-show portions are super-fun. We see Devi revelling in her femininity with bright sarees and dangling earrings, standing out in a sea of muted colours, and wowing the audience. That she was a genius is known, but she was also clearly an astute performer who knew how to keep the audience in the palm of her hand.  

Devi seemed to be ahead of her times, expecting full equality in her romantic relationships and living life on her own terms. The film gloriously explores the hint of mischief in her personality and her sharp sense of humour.  

However, we don’t understand why Devi has to oscillate between doing back-to-back shows and quitting her career altogether (this happens twice—post-marriage and then to please her daughter).  

The film tells us we need to view mothers as women too. But does the film do that? Only partially. We see glimpses of Devi’s determined and sprightly personality in her brief moments of struggle.  

But we don’t get insights into some of the most important aspects of her life. We are not told what motivated a very young Devi to move to London. I wanted to know more about her entry into politics, the issues close to her heart, the world leaders she met, the schools she visited, her journey as an astrologer, and the books she authored. What a fascinating trajectory of one person successfully balancing multiple careers across the globe! I wanted to see more of the inner workings of such a brilliant force.  

We do see Devi portrayed as her own person in the last few minutes of the movie. Even though her daughter is narrating this portion, ironically these are the only moments where she’s just Shakuntala Devi, not someone’s daughter, girlfriend, wife, or mother.  

Sonia Chopra is a critic, columnist and screenwriter with over 15 years of experience. She tweets on @soniachopra2

 

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