Film Review: Shakuntala Devi – Human Computer
Starring: Vidya Balan, Sanya Malhotra, Jishu Sengupta, Amit Sadh and Sheeba Chaddha
Director: Anu Menon
Mathematics and motherhood lie at the heart of this Amazon Prime release, a biopic on the life of India’s Guinness World Record winning genius played by the immensely versatile Vidya Balan. The gaze is quite specific as the film is viewed through the lens of the daughter of the world-famous personality, portrayed on screen by Sanya Malhotra.
We meet the young Shakuntala leaving her family spellbound as she makes complex cube root calculations within seconds, all mentally – earning her the title of Human Computer in later life. It is clear from a very young age that this is no ordinary brain and as a result she is taken from school to school, not to attend classes like other teenagers her age but to mesmerise teachers and pupils with her mathematical feat for a fee.
Between flashbacks, we see Shakuntala bear the burden of being the sole breadwinner for her poor household, a responsibility that takes a toll not only her psyche but also her relationship with her parents. The young genius eventually finds her way to London, where Tarabai (Chaddha) takes her under her wing and she blossoms on the world stage by refining her linguistic and fashion skills, with a little help from one of her many male admirers.
Shakuntala Devi is all the rage when she falls in love with Paritosh Banerji (Sengupta) and willingly abandons her wanderlust in favour of a quiet family life in Calcutta. However, marriage and motherhood are able to tie her down for only so long, and she inevitably finds herself being drawn back to her globetrotting genius past. The casualty of this independent-minded and free-spirited approach to life is not only her marriage but also her relationship with her daughter, Anu (Malhotra).
Will the mother and daughter, who do share a special bond, be able to overcome the many hiccups that life throws along the way or will the brash and outspoken Shakuntala Devi find that success comes at a high personal cost?
Vidya Balan yet again shines in her performance, despite the burden of having to portray a figure quite well-known and documented in Indian history. She embodies the very spirit of the mathematical genius, including her progressive and liberal approach to love, life and relationships. Malhotra, as the daughter of a famous mother battling through numerous inner struggles, also strikes the right note in this refreshingly female-focussed script.
Overall, with its melodious tunes and some convincing performances, this film makes for a very easy and entertaining watch. However, one can’t help but feel that we get a somewhat one-sided view of a clearly multi-dimensional character – a daughter’s perspective on a mother with whom she shared quite a turbulent history.
*iGlobal Review Series