'Shakuntala Devi' review: Vidya Balan charms her way through a fairy-tale biopic

Shakuntala Devi, vidya balan, amazon video, review, bollywood, sanya, maths

Movie reveals the woman behind the mathematical genius

By Ambica Sachin

Published: Sun 2 Aug 2020, 3:23 PM

'I always thought my childhood was terrible; Then why am I smiling in all these pictures?' These words uttered by Shakuntala Devi's (Vidya Balan) estranged daughter Anu (Sanya Malhotra) while going through her mum's black book, best sums up the eponymous biopic for us.
Memory, after all, is a complex thing; what you choose to remember and how you choose to remember them is often coloured by our emotions.
Read on:

I believe Bollywood is a fair place: Vidya Balan
Vidya Balan plays the numbers game with Shakuntala Devi
So it is with the movie, 'inspired' by events in the life of the late mathematical genius as described by her real-life daughter Anupama Banerji to director Anu Menon. As such Shakuntala Devi is a sepia-tinged period piece of a beleaguered daughter coming to terms with her larger-than-life mother's reality. 
Guinness world record holder Shakuntala Devi was a born genius, passionate about numbers and eccentric to a certain extent; she was also temperamental and brusque, with an acerbic sense of humour.
Life comes full circle for her, much like her favourite number zero, when she is confronted by her daughter who feels betrayed by a mother who chose her first love, maths, over her family. It's a conundrum that will no doubt find resonance with many modern career women.

A true torchbearer for feminism, Devi, was a woman who chose to chase her dreams, and dared to live life on her own terms. 'Why be normal, when you can be amazing?', is the catchphrase of this spirited woman who travelled the world to showcase her mathematical skills.
Vidya Balan plays Shakuntala Devi with utter gusto; her belly laugh is so contagious that you literally feel it radiating off the screen. Sanya Malhotra's wig can be a bit distracting admittedly while Amit Sadh who is cast as her 'perfect' husband, Ajay Abhay Kumar, seems a bit wasted in a role that doesn't give him much scope to showcase his skills (have you seen him in Breathe 2?).
Menon may be guilty of opting to go down the typical Bollywood path, by surrounding Devi with larger-than-life heroic souls who seem to bend over backwards to facilitate her fairy tale sojourn in the West. Be it her too-good-to-be-true IAS husband Paritosh Banerjee (a solid Jisshu Sengupta) or her Spanish mentor Javier, every character seems to add to the glossy nature of her rags-to-riches story.
But Menon's skill in encapsulating all the different facets of the Guinness World Record holder within the span of two hours needs to be acknowledged. Be it her passion for numbers, her interest in astrology, her love for her daughter or her resentment at being treated like a cash cow by her own family, Shakuntala Devi presents a 360 degree picture of a flesh-and-blood woman brimming with joi de vivre.

Much like a magical show, the movie that dropped on Amazon Prime Video today, manages to wow you and enthrall you while at the same time tug at your heartstrings with its portrayal of a complicated mother-daughter relationship.
Can a woman ever have it all, is the age-old question Shakuntala Devi throws up. The answer may be a bit complicated to spell out, but the movie does empower women to make their own choices and take the road less travelled if it brings them happiness. And for that Shakuntala Devi is worth a watch. Who knows, along with a heady dose of feminism, you may come away with a better appreciation of numbers.
Movie: Shakuntala Devi
Director: Anu Menon
Cast: Vidya Balan, Sanya Malhotra, Amit Sadh, Jisshu Sengupta
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Shakuntala Devi is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video

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