Our country has produced many talented minds who have made India proud worldwide with their talent and determination. One such person is Shakuntala Devi. Most people do not know much about him except that he was reputed as a ‘human computer’. Director Anu Menon, co-director of the path-breaking web series FOUR MORE SHOTS, bases her next film on the adventurous life of this iconic woman. So does SHAKUNTALA DEVI manage to entertain and amaze the audience? Or does it fail to entice? Let us analyze.
SHAKUNTALA DEVI is the story of a mathematical genius and his complicated relationship with his daughter. Shakuntala Devi (Arina Nanda) is 5 years old and lives in Bangalore with her family. His brother Srinivas (Ahaan Nirbhan) learns that he can solve complex math problems easily. Shakuntala’s father (Prakash Bellavadi) realizes that he can do a math show with him to thrill the audience and thus earn money. He begins to deprive Shakuntala of a formal education in school. He justifies this by arguing that he is too intelligent and sharp for schooling. Shakuntala agrees but hates her father for his selfish agenda. She gets irritated with her mother (Ipshita Chakraborty Singh) for not standing against her father. Shakuntala’s closest family member is her great-grandfather Sharada (Jia Singh). One day of Sharda passed due to lack of medical care. Her father argues that she did not have enough money to take her to the doctor. This makes Shakuntala angry. Two decades later, Shakuntala (Vidya Balan) moves to London, hoping that she can use her talent to make money. After initial denials, he finally gets a chance to do his own show for Xavier (Luca Kalwani), a member of a mathematical society. He also corrects his English and presents it. In no time, Shakuntala becomes famous and is able to buy her home in the English capital. This is when Xavier decides to leave her because she is confident that she no longer needs him. A year later, she meets Paritosh Banerjee (Jishu Sengupta), a divorced IAS officer in Bombay and they fall in love. They get married and soon have a daughter Anupama (Sanya Malhotra). At first, Shakuntala quit her job and became a full-time mother. Soon, she recalls doing shows and traveling around the world. Paritosh encourages her to follow her dreams and assures that he will take care of Anupama. Shakuntala once again begins her tour. One day everything is going well, Shakuntala comes to know that Anupama’s first word is ‘Daddy’. Shakuntala realizes that she should not get away from her daughter. Therefore, she decides to take Anupama with her on her tour. Paritosh protests but he does not listen. Anupama starts living like a nomad with Shakuntala and remembers her father and a normal routine. However, Shakuntala encourages her to enjoy living life and she uses Anupama for her work. Slowly and slowly, Anupama starts hating Shakuntala the same way Shakuntala started hating her mother. What happens next makes the rest of the film.
The story of Anu Menon and Nayanika Mahtani is quite unique. Many may not know about Shakuntala Devi’s personal life and the rift with her daughter. The screenplay by Anu Menon and Nayanika Mahtani is entertaining and the writers have tried their best to make the film as engaging and mainstream as narrative-wise as possible. However, the content can be quite shocking and inconvenient for our audience. This is because the audience is accustomed to seeing the female character in a particular way and here, the woman is shown to be highly progressive, ambitious and breaking all norms. And while doing so, she also gets involved in the bad books of her ex-husband and daughter. However one cannot deny that it is also for a refreshing watch. Ishita Moitra’s dialogues are sharp and witty.
Anu Menon’s direction is commendable. She holds a 2.07-hour time period and tries to pack her life as clean and concise as possible. She adds entertainment and drama to many proceedings to maintain interest. And most importantly, she does not make a biography. Biopics in Bollywood usually treat their characters with undue reverence. SHAKUNTALA DEVI is a rare biopic that does not do so and also exposes its flaws. On the flipside, the narrative is complex. As the film progresses, a lot happens over time. Some developments occur very quickly and some tracks do not reach a logical conclusion. For example, Paritosh’s character was completely forgotten in the last 30 minutes.
Vidya Balan: “Shakuntala Devi is the only computer with humor”. Amit Sadh | Sanya
SHAKUNTALA DEVI begins on a dramatic note, at a time when Anupam announces that he is going to sue his mother. It immediately attracts attention and makes one curious. The film then moves to a flashback mode that depicts Shakuntala’s life as a child and how her mathematical skills were discovered. The scene where she shows her first mathematics at a local school is interesting. Things get better when she moves to London. The scene where she tells her male roommates about the behavior she has with her boyfriend that closes the house. Also, the way Xavier and Shakuntala get close is lovely and makes for a stunning watch. The sequence where Shakuntala proves the computer wrong and the scene of her first meeting with Paritosh are the other entertaining scenes of the first part. Once Paritosh and Shakuntala quarrel, the humor and lighthearted wrangling and Anupama are forced to tag Shakuntala around the world. In the second half, some scenes become difficult to digest as the mother-daughter relationship turns sour. The scene breaks between tensions, with Shakuntala and Ajay Abhay Kumar’s (Amit Sadh) parents meeting for the first time. The climax is dramatic and appropriate, although some developments could have been gradual and more reassuring.
SHAKUNTALA DEVI belongs to Vidya Balan without any doubt. He has rarely disappointed and this setback is no exception. He is the master of the character and his style, comic timing, expression, hearty laughter, etc., all contributing to outstanding performances and winning awards! Sanya is an important part of Malhotra and although she leads in some confrontational scenes, she performs in most places. She is quite natural in an important scene in which she discovers that she too is becoming like her mother. Amit Sadh gives able support and leaves a huge mark. Jishu Sengupta is trustworthy. He also has a challenging character but he manages to impress. Luka Calvani is coming to an end. Sheeba Chadha (Tarabai), Prakash Bellavadi, Ipshita Chakraborty Singh, Jia Singh and Ahan Nirbhan are all right. Arina Nanda and Spandan Chaturvedi (12-year-old Shakuntala) are convinced. Neil Bhupalam (Dheeraj) in the cameo is funny. Purnendu Bhattacharya (Ajay’s father) and Renuka Sharma (Ajay’s mother) are fine.
There is no shelf life in Sachin-Jigar’s music. ‘Don’t pass, don’t fail’ Played during the end credits and is catchy. ‘Rani Hindustani’, ‘Jhilmil Piya’ And ‘Paheli’ The film works well but does not have a dull effect. Complaints are Karan Kulkarni’s background score. Keiko Nakahara’s cinematography is simple and clean. The production design of Vinati Bansal and Meenal Aggarwal is superb and brings the period look well. The costumes of Niharika Bhasin are very luxurious and the variety of dressing styles of Shakuntala are portrayed as beautiful and authentic. The hair and makeup design of Vikram Gaikwad and Shreyas Mhatre also adds influence. Do It Creative Ltd. and Future Works Media Ltd.’s VFX could have been better. The same goes for the editing of Antara Lahiri.
Overall, SHAKUNTALA DEVI, despite its unconventional theme, works big time due to its performance and Vidya Balan’s award winning performance. Recommended!