Shakuntala Devi Movie Review: The Imperfect Equation in a Genius’ Perfect Life

Shakuntala Devi has released digitally on Amazon Prime Video.

Anu Menon’s biographical drama is based on the life of Shakuntala Devi (played by Vidya Balan), the renowned mathematician, also known as ‘the human-computer’.

Devi’s astounding skills of solving complex math problems in record time won her admiration and awe, the world over.

The movie does not only explore the mathematician’s fascinating relationship with numbers but her relationships beyond it as well… Especially her life as a mother and a woman.

It beings with her journey as a three-year-old remarkably solving difficult math problems and doing her own shows across schools.

Plus, it encompasses her fearless and independent spirit as a young woman in the 1950s, who lived by her own rules adds to her dazzling persona.

One which she fiercely protects at every stage of her life.

“Why should I be normal, when I can be amazing?” Shakuntala asks her daughter Anupama (Sanya Malhotra), during an argument.

This one line summarises the entire conflict of the award-winning genius.

Commencing from the British Raj to the 21st century, the narrative spans over 7 decades and the costumes/creations of these time periods are very well done.

Within this vast timescale, we get to witness other sub-topics including the integration of Indians in the UK, just shortly after India’s independence.

At the same time, to see how a Saree clad lady, from a small village creates new heights in Mathematics and becomes an icon.

The movie constantly explores womanhood (as a whole) and their role in society as various characters – be it that of a partner, wife, exponent and mother. 

I find it fascinating that the narrative does not just rely on a biographical re-accounting on the maths wizard.

But it’s about observing how a person’s talent becomes a major setback in their personal lives.

It also raises questions on the conflict of implicit ‘traditions’ and ‘norms’ of women in addition to their aspirations and dreams. 

In many ways, the movie is empowering… Depending on which way one perceives it but here, the narrative is told from the vision of a daughter.

As such, there is an onus of a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship and how, in a way, they are reflections of their respective parents.

In fact, there is the reference of a Palindrome (word, number, phrase, or other sequences of characters which reads the same backward as well as forward).

Similarly, in the film’s situation, it seems like the dynamics of Shakuntala-Anu is also the same, to an extent.

Moreover, the maths is almost metaphoric, as it highlights that numbers can never suffice to human sentiments. 

One notable scene is when Shakuntala sits in a chat show at a later stage in life and after getting an incorrect answer, she envisages her life journey on a screen surrounded by numbers. 

Such sequences are poignant and tear-jerkers, which cinematically work well.

Menon, going by her previous films, is experienced in essaying complexities of relationships which are prolonged over geographical and tragic circumstances.  

Here too she displays this prowess in the film. But the movie is carried forward by the performances, especially Vidya Balan.

We’ve seen her essay real-life characters before and her portrayal as the Mathematics wizard is fabulous. It’s a reminder of how remarkable she is.

As time evolves in the movie, Balan organically essays the role well.

When it comes the chirpy on-stage persona or her emotional quotients, Vidya is supremely organic as an actor and this definitely can be regarded as one of her best works.

Her camaraderie with Sanya Malhotra as her on-screen mother is convincing. Their banter and bond are well enacted.

Speaking of Sanya, she too re-affirms to be a wonderful talent. As Anupama, she exhibits all aspects of Shakuntala’s daughter well.

Given that this is her sixth film, she shows such growth as an artist and she will only get better.

Jisshu Sengupta and Amit Sadh perform their parts well, in their parts as Shakuntala and Anupama’s partners, respectively. 

Whilst there are many positive aspects to the movie, the narrative cross-cuts to different time periods.

I feel this non-linear narrative structure becomes distracting and in a way, disconnects us from the characters.

Had the time-frame been not as erratic, perhaps the characters and circumstances would’ve been more compelling.

On the whole, Shakuntala Devi provides a humanised insight on the tumultuous life of a genius, when it comes to their personal lives and their ‘equations’ with loved ones.

Vidya Balan, once again, puts on a powerful performance which will definitely be regarded as one of her best and Sanya too, delivers an impressive act. 

Also, the film will encourage you to hug your mother after seeing this and tell them how much you love them. I know I certainly did.

⭐⭐⭐.5 (3.5/5 stars)

About Anuj Radia 994 Articles
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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