‘SHAKUNTALA DEVI’ | 31 July, 2020

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Sony Pictures Network Productions and Abundantia Entertainment’s Shakuntala Devi is a biopic of famous Indian mathematician Shakuntala Devi who earned the sobriquet of Human Computer for the sheer speed with which she used to solve Maths problems. The story begins in her childhood, traces her genius at Mathematics despite not having any formal education, earning name, fame and a lot of money by conducting Mathematics shows all over the world, her personal life, her marriage and her relationship with her only child, Anupama.

Shakuntala (baby Araina Nand) is a genius at Maths even though she has never been to a school. Number crunching comes to her very easily because of which she is hailed in her childhood by various schools and academicians. Her wheelchair-borne elder sister, Sharada (Jiya Shah), dies because her greedy father (Prakash Belawadi) refuses to take her to a doctor as he feels, it would be a waste of money. Her mother’s (Ipshita Chakraborty Singh) silence at her father’s indifference agitates Shakuntala so much that she is unable to forgive both her parents for life. Once she can fend for herself, the bold Shakuntala leaves home. Soon, she becomes a respectable name, conducting Mathematics shows all over the world. In one such show, she defeats the best computer and earns the title of Human Computer.

Although Shakuntala is unable to get over her sister’s death and, therefore, unable to forgive her parents, she, nevertheless, looks after them by sending them money regularly. She gets married to Paritosh Banerji (Jishhu Sengupta), a divorcee, and they soon have a daughter, Anupama. Since Shakuntala has to travel the world for her shows, she insists on keeping Anupama with her when Paritosh expresses his inability to travel with her like a hanger-on. This creates resentment in Anupama’s mind as she is unable to meet her father. What’s more, the mother doesn’t allow her to communicate with the father, adding further to the woes of the young Anupama (baby Chahat Tewani). It soon appears that Shakuntala Devi is not just selfish but also manipulative and self-centred. Things come to such a pass that Anupama breaks off all ties with her mother.

Anupama (Sanya Malhotra) marries Ajay Abhaya Kumar (Amit Sadh) whom she loves very much. Her only condition is that they will never have kids and that’s because of Anupama’s traumatic childhood.

What happens thereafter? Do Shakuntala Devi and Anupama reconcile their differences? If so, how? If not, what happens ultimately?

Anu Menon and Nayanika Mahtani have penned a story and screenplay based on the real life story of Shakuntala Devi. That they have remained honest to Shakuntala’s story is laudable, but it is also the reason for the film having restricted appeal. The Indian audience is not used to seeing a hero (in this case, Shakuntala Devi) with flaws. The viewers know Shakuntala Devi as a Mathematics genius. To know that she was selfish, self-centred and so manipulative would come as a rude shock to them and, in fact, create a bad impression about her in their minds. In that sense, Shakuntala Devi would not be the complete role model one would expect her to be when the viewer thinks about her or starts to watch her biopic. The screenplay has two main characters — Shakuntala Devi and her daughter, Anupama. Since both are strong-headed and uncompromising, the audience wonders who to side with. The traditional viewers of Hindi films like to see their heroines as being selfless rather than selfish, giving rather than manipulative, accommodative rather than uncompromising. For them to see a woman being so career-minded that she would rather divorce her husband than save the marriage comes as a shock. In that sense, the drama becomes very class-appealing. That is not to say that the screenplay does not have any plus points for the non-classes. The mother-daughter relationship does tug at the heart-strings but not fully. In fact, at places, the drama appears more depressing than emotional because all the lead characters seem to be very unhappy people in their own ways. Womenfolk will be able to identify with the drama more than the menfolk. The film goes into flashback mode at many times and that gets a bit confusing sometimes. Ishita Moitra’s dialogues are good.

Vidya Balan lives the role of Shakuntala Devi. She is supremely natural in the title role and goes through her role with elan. She deserves kudos for a job wonderfully done. Sanya Malhotra is very good as Anupama but she gets limited scope. Jishhu Sengupta stands his own as Paritosh Banerji but, again, he too does not get much scope. Amit Sadh, as Ajay Abhaya Kumar, lends decent support. Sheeba Chaddha (as Tarabai) is natural. Luca Calvani leaves a mark as Javier. Baby Araina Nand (as little Shakuntala) and Spandan Chaturvedi (as the 12-year-old Shakuntala) are superb. Chahat Tewani stands her own as the 11-year-old Anupama. Jiya Shah has her moments as Sharada. Prakash Belawadi leaves a fine mark as Shakuntala’s father. Ipshita Chakraborty Singh is effective as Shakuntala’s mother. Neil Bhoopalam makes his presence felt in the role of Shakuntala’s boyfriend, Dheeraj. Ian Bailley (as the mediator), Jake Francis (as Anu’s lawyer), Philip Roy (as Shakuntala’s lawyer), Purnendu Bhattacharya (as Ajay’s father) and Renuka Sharma (as Ajay’s mother) provide decent support. Others are adequate.

Anu Menon’s direction is good but could’ve been more sensitive. The story of the tumultous relationship of a mother and her daughter should have been a tear-jerker but Anu Menon is unable to evoke emotions of those kind. Sachin-Jigar’s music goes with the film’s mood but the absence of a single hit song is felt. Lyrics (Vayu and Priya Saraiya) are appropriate. Song picturisations (‘Rani Hindustani’ song by Shampa Gopikrishna; ‘Pass nahin’ and ‘Jhilmil’ songs by Vijay Ganguly) are alright. Karan Kulkarni’s background music is quite nice. Keiko Nakahara’s cinematography is of a good standard. Production designing (by Vintee Bansal and Meenal Agarwal) is fairly nice. Antara Lahiri’s editing is quite sharp but could’ve been crisper.

On the whole, Shakuntala Devi is a fair entertainer but it is more for the classes than the masses and more for the ladies audience than the males. Had it been released theatrically, it would have done well in select multiplexes mainly but average business overall.

Released on 31-7-’20 on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries.

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