Cast: Vidya Balan, Jisshu Sengupta, Sanya Malhotra, Amit Sadh
Directer: Anu Menon
Directed by Anu Menon, Shakuntala Devi that features Vidya Balan in the titular role, is a family entertainer at heart. Wrapped in the blanket of drama and overt feminism, this biopic is about a genius Indian Mathematician trying to strike a balance between her responsibility as a mother and her personal growth as a celebrity.
Sanya Malhotra as Shakuntala Devi’s daughter, Anu Banerjee, narrates the story in flashback. We see Shakuntala, who has won several awards in the field of maths and holds many world records for solving numeric problems in a jiffy had led her childhood in poverty. A family tragedy fuels her ambition to become a successful woman.
From her childhood, Shakuntala has been pretty clear of what she wants from life. Submissively she is inclined to have a normal school life like other kids her age but she doesn’t want to let go off her talent. At a very young age, she starts earning for the family by doing math shows around her village.
As the narrative moves forward, she heads to the US, does multiple shows, competes with computers and gains the title of “Human Computer”. On one of her tours, the witty Shakuntala meets businessman Paritosh Banerjee (Jisshu Sengupta) from Calcutta and eventually her focus shifts to making a family. Years after their daughter is born, Shakuntala realises her life belongs to stage and there begins the second arc of the story. From here, Shakuntala’s conflict between her ambition and motherhood begins and hence family drama takes over.
Throughout the film, director Anu Menon has made sure that the audience never forgets that Shakuntala is a maths genius. But she also keeps reminding us that she’s a vulnerable mother who wants to stay close to her daughter. However, in an attempt to strike a balance between the two, Shakuntala Devi’s reel journey appears quite regular.
Vidya’s character gets to question norms with Ishita Moitra one-liners. ‘Aadmi kyu, main to duniya kee sabsi badi auarat banungi,’ and ‘Why do men always want women to need them,’ are some examples. But this is never truly reflected on the screen. The fast pace of the film works both as favour and drawback. Shakuntala says big things, we also see her accomplishing some of them, but it never really comes across as an achievement because we do not ever see what went behind it.
From not being able to afford medication for her family to fly across nations to buying posh houses abroad, the story moves so swiftly, that we almost forget about the beginning. It feels too rushed.
At first, the film appears to be about Shakuntala’s life choices but it soon resorts to a clichéd drama. A vibrant one though. And the credit goes to Vidya Balan. She is confident, humorous and charming as Shakuntala Devi. Balan works upon detailing and you can see her character's changing mannerisms as Shakuntala ages on the screen. It is her precision that makes the obvious narrative appealing. Without her, the film would have been a dull watch.
Sanya Malhotra also plays her part well. As Anu, she tries to come out of the shadows of her over-achieving mother.
The supporting cast of Amit Sadh and Jisshu Sengupta also does a good job. Despite brief roles, their screen presence makes an impact on the story. Apart from the cast, the usage of warm colours and upbeat music also helps in lifting the film and filling it with energy.
Given the optimistic zeal of the film, you're never bored with the characters. It is indeed an enjoyable and happy film that you’ll want to watch with your mother. It would have been better oif it was not limited to stereotypes.