Shakuntala Devi Movie Review: Vidya Balan is riveting in this uneven biopic
New Delhi | Rakesh Jha: It was in 2008 during my second year in college, I came across a book titled 'Puzzles to Puzzle you' by Shakuntala Devi lying on a friend's table. Unbeknownst to the territory, I am venturing into, I tried solving a few puzzles. With my average arithmetic skills, it did not take me long to realise that I should rather save my efforts. For a personality as celebrated as hers, a Maths wizard with a Guinness World record to her name, a feminist in her own right, a prolific writer and an astrologer, there was very little information about her private life.
The eponymously titled film dramatizes the life of the mathematician who lived unapologetically on her own terms. Like a template biopic, the film takes us to a poor household in Karnataka where Shakuntala's parents exploit her talent to make ends meet and deprive her of formal education, a decision for which she despised them. The chain of events takes her to London where she dazzles the audience with her mathematical wizardry and finds fame as the ‘human computer’. She marries a civil servant named Paritosh (Jisshu Sengupta) and shifts to Calcutta where the couple has a baby. However, she struggles to lead a mundane family life. The film explores Shakuntala's testy relationship with daughter Anu (Sanya Malhotra), who wants a ‘normal’ life. Gradually, Shakuntala is seen turning into a version of her own father, being inconsiderate of her daughter’s feelings. However, the ending seemed quite fast-paced and rather melodramatic.
Balan's portrayal as an assertive mother is a far cry from the usual pacifist mothers shown in Hindi movies. Director Anu Menon must be credited for not falling into the trap of glorification and focussing on the flawed aspects of its characters. Vidya Balan, who has earlier portrayed real-life characters like Silk Smitha, effortlessly slips into the eponymous role of Shakuntala Devi. Her transition between age and appearance is rather magnetic. Saniya Malhotra does a brilliant job as an unhappy daughter who wants to come out of the shadow of her celeb mom. She is barely recognizable in different avatars, and effectively switch gears from a teen struggling to keep up with her trail-blazer mother and later as an interior designer trying to find her own feet.
While exploring the mother-daughter relationship, the story flits between past and present, but towards the end, the structure gets jarring. The tone of the film is little over the top as there is no space for fine details. Jisshu Sengupta gives a measured performance as Shakuntala Devi's husband. Amit Sadh does a fine job despite his limited screen presence. Shakuntala Devi may not be a very articulate film but it does justice to the complex and contradictory life of a rare genius, who would never settle for anything normal.