Set through her daughter Anupama’s memories, Shakuntala Devi not only portrays a contrast of characters but also the vivid relationships that mothers and daughters share. Apart from being a genius, the movie also highlights her dark side and how she often had to go through different adversities in her life.
Shakuntala Devi tells the story of a fiercely feminist, independent, successful woman who in 1977, calculated the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in 50 seconds, but it is set in a sexist and homely frame. The movie opens up in London on a pretty artificial note. Anupama, Shakuntala’s daughter (Sanya Malhotra) wants to sue her mother for destroying her financially. While most would never even think of harming their mother in any possible manner, here is Anu who somehow knew that her future actions might send her mother to prison. This was an interesting way to begin the story.
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 London, 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.
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.
The film keeps toggling between Shakuntala Devi’s past and present, the personal and the professional. As Shakuntala, the genius impresses the world, away from the public what accolades her is familial dysfunction.
Later, Shakuntala Devi enters the Guinness Book of World Records but Anupama misses her father, having a home and begins to see only her mother’s flaws. She fights and breaks free but years later, when she grows up, she decides to marry the boy she loves, Ajay (Amit Sadh), Shakuntala Devi disapproves, repeating the cycle of her own life.
Along with Shakuntala Devi’s dazzling mind, the film wants us to also see warts and ugliness of this “amazing” woman. It wants us to embrace her with her flaws.
However, even when the movie becomes a little dramatic, it is Vidya Balan who continues to hold the bar firmly. She completely steals the limelight as a mathematics wizard. She is charming, vibrant and holds the narrative together. She is confident and humourous 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. 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.
Shakuntala Devi the movie, plays a lot with time, jumping between the past and present. It reflects the fact that even a genius, a prodigy is not infallible and has a darker side. It is the flaws that every person has to work upon at the end. Shakuntala Devi indeed understands the problem and accept her mistakes. She later openly welcomes her son in law. It is thus a family watch that should not only be seen to witness a Maths expert or Balan’s extraordinary performance but also to grasp how to build up and maintain relationships.