Shakuntala Devi Review6 min read

Shakuntala Devi is an exceptional story of an extraordinary mind and a complicated life. Shakuntala Devi, the film, has not done any justice to such a grand and gifted life. 

If you think the film will give you a glimpse into the undeciphered intelligence, you are wrong. Shakuntala Devi is a sluggish film that doesn’t even cover 1% of the legend’s journey for which she was world-famous. 

If you see the maths scenes, you can easily tell that absolutely no research has gone into understanding Shakuntala Devi and her Maths, her journey from a young girl coming from a poor family to a woman who became world-famous without ever going to school just by doing calculations. That’s one heck of a journey, and an inspiring tale to tell. But how they ruined it all. If you check out Shakuntala Devi’s videos on YouTube, the Maths incidents shown in the movie look like a series of YouTube videos that you are watching back to back. 

They have covered only the prominent happenings and not the real events as they unfolded in her life. 

The movie, as mentioned in the very beginning, is based on Shakuntala Devi’s daughter, Anupama Banerjee’s perspective of her mother’s life. I have said this in Queen’s review as well and I would like to say it once again:

When the person, especially a public figure, is not among us to tell the story himself/herself or to tell you why he/she did or say certain things, you should not make a film or write a book in a way which would make the audience/readers question the personality or at some places, show them in a bad light. 

When I first read about Shakuntala Devi, which is recently, the first thing that surprised me was her book on homosexuality. She wrote it back in 1977 and not just that, if the theory is to be believed, she could write a book on the subject as her husband was gay which means she has known homosexuals and the lives closely. As per the film and as told by her daughter, Shakuntala Devi had lied about her husband’s sexuality as she wanted the book to do well. 

You or I do not know the truth here and hence we shouldn’t judge. And the same applies to the writer and the director. Did she ever confess that she had lied about her husband’s sexuality? If yes, then go ahead and show it in your film but don’t do that because her daughter told you so especially when the film itself says that the mother-daughter had a strained relationship. And also, the way children look at their parents and their lives will always be a distorted reality. We only idealize them, never see them as human beings who too can be flawed. Sometimes, children end up hating their own parents as they do not stand true to the image they have created about them in their heads, which further distort reality for them. Honestly, I felt such sensitive topics shouldn’t have been touched. 

Shakuntala Devi, in whatever I saw in the film, and keeping the negative side of the lady aside (as that was either her daughter or the filmmaker’s perspective, not necessarily the reality), I saw in her a woman who was much ahead of her time. She was independent, confident, and above all, courageous. These were rare qualities back then. When she asks her son-in-law, why should only girls leave their families and settle down with their husbands and why can’t men do that for women, I didn’t find that wrong or obsessive. 

If Wikipedia is to be believed, what is shown in the film about her early life contradicts the information. But since the family was involved in the making of the film, let’s give them the benefit of doubt and let’s believe that Shakuntala Devi moved to London alone and cut all the ties with her family after that. If that is true, in the 1970s, how difficult it must have been for a single woman who had not even been to school, to travel the world and make a living with no financial or emotional support. In that case, if she held her only daughter close to her heart while trying to not rely on man and also, making her daughter independent, I don’t see that as obsessive or over-possessive. At times, her ways might have been wrong but that doesn’t put her in a bad light.  

And if the woman was so obsessed with herself, her Maths, money, and her daughter, why did the daughter reconcile with her in the end? Which daughter would accept a mother who publicly calls her father gay so that her book makes money? Why did it all end in a filmy way? 

More than a film, Shakuntala Devi could have easily been a wonderful web series where the makers could have focussed more on the woman’s life and her super-sharp mind, her journey from rags to riches along with her personal life. I honestly feel that someone should. 

Speaking of the performances, Vidya Balan further ruins it all. She herself is a jovial and confident personality, I wonder why enacting it became so difficult for her. In no way did she look like a happy-go-lucky, intelligent woman making her way forward in a patriarchal society. Instead, at places, her tactics looked cheap and not funny. And yes, overacting ke Rs. 5 cut.  It looked like Vidya Balan simply tried to imitate Shakuntala Devi’s mannerisms and talking style that we see in the YouTube videos. She should have instead just been herself. In the movie, she could neither be Shakuntala Devi nor the Vidya Balan we love. 

The only respite in the movie was Amit Sadh. In Breathe: Into the Shadows review, I had mentioned that I want to see him play a normal guy, a guy who is not guilty or depressed. It was such a relief to see him play a regular boy living a normal life. How I wish he gets to play a typical Bollywood hero someday in a super-cute love-story. No, I am not a fan of typical Bollywood heroes and love stories, but I want Amit Sadh to do a role we usually don’t see him do. I want him to break the stereotype. He is capable of doing much more than what he has been offered till date. 

Coming back to the film, I liked the way they have shown how her emotional and psychological blockages negatively affected her life and relationships, how that negativity returned into her life and changed her perspective healing her childhood trauma but then again, how much of it is true? No one knows which is why they couldn’t get into the depth and had to make an entire film based on just what they saw on the surface. That missing depth is what screwed it all. 

Where to Watch? Amazon Prime Video

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