Shakuntala Devi Movie Review: The Woman Behind The Genius

Director: Anu Menon

Cast: Vidya Balan, Sanya Malhotra, Jisshu Sengupta, Amit Sadh

We have always known Shakuntala Devi as the mathematics prodigy who brought fame and glory to India. This film, however, aims at trying to make us see, hear, and understand the tale of the woman behind this world-renowned genius.

The film moves back and forth between moments over the years of Shakuntala Devi’s life. Though it might seem jarring at first, it perfectly sets the tone for the successive scenes. Anu Menon, through her female gaze as the director, successfully captures the mirroring emotions felt by Shakuntala Devi (Vidya Balan) and her daughter Anupama Banerji (Sanya Malhotra) throughout their journey as daughters, wives, mothers and most importantly, as women. Thus film, that serves as a biopic, narrates the trials and tribulations faced by the titular character as she aims to retain her individual identity while simultaneously trying to embrace the various roles that she had taken on.

The film starts off with showing us how Shakuntala came to be known as the genius she is remembered as today. Having spent her entire youth serving as the breadwinner of her family due to her mathematic capabilities, it is understood that she was forced to become an adult before she ever got to properly live her childhood. However, the tragic loss of her elder sister, finally pushes her over the edge and she decides to detach herself from her family and she vows to never become like her soft-spoken and timid mother. Eventually, a grown up Shakuntala aims to find her place in London where she continues entrancing people with her talent and soon gains recognition worldwide while maintaining her indigenous identity. At one point in the film, she decides to settle down with Parutosh Banerji (Jisshu Sengupta) and build a life with him in his hometown Calcutta. She even gives birth to her daughter Anu and though everything seemed to be picture perfect on the surface, it was clear that she had begun losing her independent identity which she, once again, sets out to regain.

Shakuntala defies the norms of the traditional role of a mother as she chooses to live for herself and not just her daughter. At first, it paints her in a negative light, and the audience, like Anu, start viewing her antagonistically. What follows is a tale of the complex relationship between Shakuntala and Anu that in turn ties into the primary theme of the film which is the identity of a woman and or as a mother. The film, like their relationship, comes full circle in the end when we, along with Anu, begin to see Shakuntala as more than just the mother and genius she was. We begin to see and love her for the independent, ambitious, strong-willed woman who never let anyone else get in the way of who she wanted to be. She lived the way she wanted to, only expressed her support for “controversial” topics like Homosexuality without worrying about the repercussions, never compromised herself for anyone but always cared and looked out for those she held dear.

Vidya Balan shines in her stellar and effortless performance as Shakuntala Devi and takes the audience on an eye-opening journey with this one-woman show. We may love and hate the character at various instances throughout the film, but by the end, we understand her. And though we may never get an answer to the question – “How does she do it?” – that was posed by many characters during the film with regards to her mathematical talents, due to this film, we now understand the real answers to the who and why.

Verdict: The film serves as an engaging and beautiful ode to the woman, and not just genius, that the late Shakuntala Devi was.

Rating: 3.5/5


Review by: Lasya Adiraj 

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