Available on: Amazon Prime Video
A teacher writes a complex mathematical equation on the board and asks a young Shakuntala Devi (Araina Nand), "Tum iss prashan se ubb toh nahi jaogi?" Hearing this, the child prodigy picks up a piece of cloth and wipes away the commas placed between the numbers. On being asked the reason behind the same, the young girl quips, "Yeh raaste mein aate hain," and within a few seconds, gives the correct answer to the equation.
Just like the young math wiz, Vidya Balan too wipes away your doubts whether a biographical account of a mathematician can keep you glued to the screen for 127 minutes!
What's Yay: Vidya Balan
What's Nay: Anu Menon and writer Nayanika Mahtani take a few miscalculated steps which reflects in a scene or two.
The film begins with Anupama Banerji (Sanya Malhotra), dressed in a pristine white shirt and hair tied in a bun, gearing up to file a criminal case against her mother, the 'great' Shakuntala Devi (Vidya Balan).
In a montage-of-sorts, we are introduced to a young Shakuntala Devi (Araina Nand) solving complex equations for a block of Mysore pak. When her father (Prakash Belawade) realizes that his daughter is 'not an ordinary girl but a genius', he starts taking her out to do math shows. Even at a young age, Shakuntala is a fierce feminist who aspires to become a 'badi aurat' in life. At the same time, she grows up to despise both her parents, especially her mother for being docile to her husband.
In the next chapter, a sari-clad Shakuntala Devi with two dangling plaits returns back to her first love- maths in London, when her love interest tries to fool her. There, she bumps into a Spanish man named Jamier who gives her a makeover and teaches her English. Our 'Rani Hindustani' soon finds fame as the 'human computer', and eventually makes her way into the Guinness Book of World Records for her astonishing math skills.
But ouch, hearts are broken one more time when Jamier decides to return back to Spain. While parting, when he tells Shakuntala that she doesn't need him anymore, the lady shoots back, "Why do men always want women to need them?" With numbers as her constant companion, Shakuntala continues her journey. She finally finds her 'Dushyant' in the form of an IAS officer named Paritosh (Jishhu Sengupta) and marries him.
But soon, Shakuntala Devi finds herself struggling to strike a balance between maths and motherhood. This time, will the number-crunching genius succeed in solving the equation of life?
Since Shakuntala Devi's life as a celebrated mathematician is out there in public domain, director Anu Menon chooses to focus her lens on Devi's flawed relationships with her loved ones instead. The first half of the film is breezy, while emotions run half in the latter portion. Menon explores the messy mother-daughter equation in a heartfelt way.
Talking about the hiccups, the writing wobbles at a few places. Also, the non-linear narrative is a big turn-off, before you get slowly accustomed to it.
Vidya Balan pulls off an electrifying act as Shakuntala Devi. One can see that the actress had a ball of time while playing a woman who lived and loved unapologetically, and that fluidity translates on the screen as well. Vidya is an absolute cracker each time she slips into the witty side of Shakuntala Devi. Similarly, she also moves you to tears in the emotional scenes.
Sanya Malhotra is compelling, and her chemistry with Vidya makes for an interesting watch. The young girl portrays her character's anguish and helplessness effectively. Amit Sadh and Jisshu Sengupta play their parts with sincerity.
Keiko Nakahara's visual palette is vibrant and celebratory. It adapts well with mood and tone of the story-telling. Antara Lahiri's editing scissors could have been a little more sharper to define a few few rough edges.
Benny Dayal and Monali Thakur's 'Jhilmil Piya' is the only track which manages to impress. The rest of the songs are passable.
Shakuntala Devi is a film which inspires you to embrace your imperfections and celebrate them. It also makes you realize that there's a lot more to a woman than being just a mother. Take a closer look; there's a 'genius' as well!
In one of the scenes, Vidya Balan's Shakuntala Devi tells her daughter, "Jab amazing ban sakti hoon toh normal kyun banungi?"
The actress and the film stay true to these words! Vidya-kasam.
We give 3.5 stars out of 5 for Vidya Balan's Shakuntala Devi.