Shakuntala Devi|An uneven & superficial peek into the life of a genius

A little girl playing in her verandah one day happens to casually solve a complicated mathematical problem. When this is brought to her father’s attention, he quickly turns this talent into a business opportunity and that’s where the journey of Shakuntala Devi begins.

I love this little girl who is so nonchalant about her extraordinary talent. She just goes around from school to school demonstrating her math powers and walks out wishing nothing but a chance at a normal life.  Sadly 15 mins into the movie and the cute wizard grows up into an overdramatic almost narcissist Vidya Balan.  Watching a human beat computer at numbers, creating magic shows out of math should have been fun but the fun fades away too fast. The pace is rushed where it shouldn’t and then it stretches at the less interesting places.

I was prepared to be in awe of this lady, but the movie doesn’t let you fall in love with her. It forces you to believe that beyond maths this woman is crazy.

The choice to tell the story through her daughter’s angle keeps us very far from Shakuntala Devi herself. We never get to meet her alone, independent of her relationships. How was it to be born with such an exceptional gift, how did she go from rags to riches in London, how did a mathematician become an astrologer, a writer and a politician, all this is barely dealt with.

It is a conscious choice to go beyond her glorious and bold life of fame and to look at her imperfections but the writing fails to be honest to itself in accepting a flawed woman as a flawed woman. This woman was special and to view her complex life through a black and white lens seems unfair to her and the story. So while she is a Guinness record holder and a women of extraordinary talent, the focus is more on her failure at being a ’normal mother’. The idea of the film seems self-conflicting between making Shakuntala do all the feminist heavy lifting and then the entire narration trying to prove how choosing self-worth over anything else makes you bad person.

The screenplay jumps back and forth in time distractingly, leaving characters and emotions midway. Everything is loud. The acting, the jokes, the hair, the dressing everything. Also everything is literal. There is a forced ‘Vidya Kasam’ into dialogues too often. There is a whole scene where Shakuntala Devi and her husband pretend to be a normal family, by using the word ‘normal’ 10 times in a sentence.

Vidya Balan is  as good as we last saw her, nothing more nothing less. The bold, dynamic, fiesty Shakuntla feels like a natural extension of real life Vidya, and the film relies on this alone a little too much. Sanya Malthora has been cursed with a hideous wig, thanks to that and the overacting it was hard to take her seriously. The directors even made Amit Sadh overact, that must be a first for him. Jishu Sengupta stands out in this mother-daughter chaos. His character is the most understated yet effective one.

To make a biopic out of such an enigmatic woman is no joke, but the writers fall into the trap of squeezing in too much into one film, hence making everything superficial. But we have grown up to the stories of her genius and there is a simple joy in watching her excel beyond imagination at something so unusual. The film shines in bits and pieces but sadly it doesn’t come together very well.

Going with a disappointing 2 cuttings out of 5.

3 thoughts on “Shakuntala Devi|An uneven & superficial peek into the life of a genius

  1. Pallavi says:

    A good cutting ? review. It takes a skilled and determined director to create and present life story unusual as that of Shakuntala Devi.
    Do you think the initial inspiration was from “Hidden figures”??

    • mayuri.chaoji says:

      Hey thanks! I think Hidden Figures was slightly different and this one ideally is an inspiration from her real life, but maybe not the inspirational parts so much.

  2. Nikita says:

    Perfect example of Narcissist mother and being a mother in law. Who can distroy anyone’s life without feel guilty. #Narcissist

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