Anu Menon’s directorial venture offers an attractive and interesting peak into the world of genius Indian mathematician, astrologer and author
Starting off with a brilliant opening sequence that hits you hard, the film promises to be much more than just a simple biopic. Shakuntala Devi transcends from adhering to the notions of biopic and how this should be treated for screen. The film is everything you need for inspiration, entertainment, and life lessons beyond the meanings of all these. The film paints the gifted mathematics wizard in capacities that one doesn’t know of, a very intelligent way to portray a person.
The film is based on the life of Shakuntala Devi (Vidya Balan), revered as the human computer.
Told through the eyes of Shakuntala Devi’s daughter Anupama, the story and screenplay is written by Menon herself and Nayanika Mahtani. The dialogues are by Ishita Moitra. It’s a screenplay worth referring to time and again, to understand the brilliance of structure and elements that resonate with you.
There is so much happening in the film, yet it never feels rushed. You get adequate time to absorb the details and still are able to see so much unfold on screen. This is no mean feat. Early on in the film when Shakuntala as a child is told that tu ek din bahut bada aadmi banegi, you know for sure that the film is not only about her skills with numbers. A social commentary has been made without going overboard or preachy almost all throughout in a way that you ponder over it. Simply genius of the writers to have done that.
Right from the time when Shakuntala declares that she should be addressed as ‘appa’ of the house since she earns through her maths shows, to the time her aspirations rise way beyond her duties, the film covers a huge spectrum. What is right and what is wrong? Or who is more right? Or what is less wrong? The film doesn’t take a stand, leaving you to take one. The film oscillates beautifully between such notions and all you can do is marvel the nuanced writing.
The film is also a picture between a mother and her daughter. It is an ode to a woman of her womanhood. Duties vs aspirations. Responsibilities vs dreams. Or can they go hand in hand? Even when the film tries to say something and impart a lesson, it doesn’t look forced, and that’s the biggest beauty of the film. Kudos to Menon for making the film go ahead of maths, making it more humane, showcasing Shakuntala Devi’s personal aspect in great detail.
What also steals your heart is the fact that the narrative is unconventionally eccentric. The ingrained humour in the plot and the showers of emotions and tears between make it for a complete package.
One thing that does fall short is Shakuntala’s aversion towards her parents. Even when she expresses it in the film, you don’t quite relate to it as it is not shown. You are asked to believe it. However, this is the only weak point, that too a minor one.
Vidya Balan is hands down the reigning queen. She owns the frames she is in. Give her anything and she rules in them all. Humourous, funny, weird, emotional, turbulent, strange, or even plain- she is right up there. Not only does she deserve some of the best compliments for this one, she also deserves some of the highest awards for this portrayal. Of course it is debatable if the real person was also the same in demeanour, but in the role, Vidya is an ace. As the film says, Vidya Kasam.
Sanya Malhotra is simply outstanding too. Film after film, she proves she is one of the most talented actors of the current lot. She is so good that whenever she appears, you anticipate a quick flow in the narrative. And you are not disappointed.
Amit Sadh lends possibly the finest supporting act here. He is a charmer. He contributes so wonderfully in the plot that you want more and more of him. Same can be said about Jisshu Sengupta. You relate to him the most, the most sane person probably in the entire ensemble. He delivers a mature performance, making the role completely his own personality.
Sheeba Chadha in a small role is just okay. She does what is asked of her.
Music by Sachin-Jigar is soulful, adding dimensions to the film. The songs are not too many, but when they do come, they make you sing along. They give meaning to the content as well. Background score by Karan Kulkarni is very good, suiting the sensibilities of the film.
Keiko Nakahara’s cinematography is bold and yet simple. The colours are vibrant. The periods are created well and definitions are achieved satisfactorily. Production design by Vintee Bansal and Meenal Agarwal is also fantastically done, keeping in mind the positioning right. The sets give the authentic feel and you feel connected all through. Credits to make up and costume department as well for making the film look real.
Editing by Antara Lahiri is one of the best aspects of this film. First, the film travels back and forth. Also the way scenes are cut and how they make transitions give the film an edge. The filmmaking is very unique and enjoyable, all achieved through smart work on editing table. Writing and editing make this film what it is. Simply superb.
The film is for all. Must be watched by all. Maths, womanhood, mother-daughter, husband-wife, roles, duties, responsibilities, life, dreams, skills, individuality- the film has it all. What more do you need? Watch it now.