Movies

Shakuntala Devi: Demystifying sexism

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Sexism and feminism are two closely intertwined concepts. Overtime, there have been attempts to critically understand and address the issues surrounding the clamour for equality and equity. These subjects have also been represented in art forms including movies and music. However, in modern times, no piece of art has, perhaps, done justice to the subject of feminism like the Hindi movie, Shakuntala Devi.

Told from the standpoint of its main character, Shakuntala Devi, recently released on Amazon Prime, is a beautiful movie that reveals the virtue of following one’s dreams and harnessing one’s God-given potentials. The movie opens in the streets of India, but as the story progresses, the character travels around the world exploring various opportunities.

Cast

Directed by the talented Anu Menon, this movie features the versatile Vidya Balan as Shakuntala Devi who portrays the role in great fashion as she captures the heart of viewers with her charm and vibrancy. Other members of cast include Jisshu Sengupta, Sanya Malhotra, and Prakash Belawadi.

Story

This dramatic piece of artistic representation promotes positive feminism as we see Shakuntala Devi who is the major attraction living her dreams and succeeding in life. The story-line revolves around Shakuntala Devi’s life and choices. She is a mathematician, originally based in India, and also a genius by all ramifications caught between the tedious job of balancing the responsibilities of being a mother and the sudden rise to fame as an important celebrity.

The story is told in a livid and captivating flashback by Shakuntala Devi’s daughter; Anu Banerjee brought to life by the beautiful Sanya Malhotra. In the movie, we see Shakuntala Devi, the protagonist, who was by all means a successful and accomplished mathematician with several world records under her belt for solving complex numeric problems and several other awards in the field of mathematics.

Shakuntala Devi’s personality in the movie can be likened to that of a go-getter; one who faces daunting tasks head on in pursuit of greatness. From her childhood days, she had always been the kind of person that would stop at nothing to achieve everything she sets her mind to.

Plot

The movie highlights the poor and underprivileged childhood Shakuntala Devi has. When she was younger, she was convinced about the path she wanted to take and the goals she wanted to achieve until a tragedy struck and there was nothing little Shakuntala could do about it.

As a kid, she blends pretty well with other kids her age but was always aware of her potential. She put this to good use when she earned the little she could to take care of her family by solving math problems for numerous people in her village.

Fast forward to many years later and the much older Shakuntala Devi moves to the United States where she takes her natural talent a step further; conquering several grounds and even defeating a computer, causing her to attain the nickname; the Human computer. This new fame brought her many opportunities and acknowledgements in the course of the movie.

As a beautiful and smart woman, Shakuntala Devi captures the heart of successful businessman Paritosh Banerjee played by Jisshu Sengupta on one of her many tours. Her attention slowly but surely shifts towards starting a family as that seems the only thing left for her to accomplish.

Soon after her daughter Anu is born, Shakuntala Devi gets an epiphany on her life. She believes her life belongs in the spotlight, entertaining and thrilling audiences with her talent. This sparks off a conflict between her talent and her family and the plot of the story takes a turn as she proceeds to choose the part of her life to focus more attention.

Vidya Balan (source: Twitter)

As the narrative progresses, viewers are constantly reminded of the intellectual prowess of Shakuntala Devi and the toll this has on her as a mother. Her real woes begin when she tries balancing motherhood and her career as a math wizard. The movie will spark mixed feelings in you as you empathise with the desire of Vidya’s character to enjoy motherhood but at the same time, you understand why it is difficult to let go of the amazing possibilities her mind produces.

This movie further brings to the forefront the age-long debate about the priorities of a woman in modern society and how she is often expected to pick the domestic sphere over her career and ambitions. The question is often asked; “Should a woman dream?” “Does she have a right to pursue that dream?”, “Should she always let go of that dream to take care of her family?”. It may not have provided the answers, but it those throw lots of questions in ways they’ve never been asked before.

The viewers are taken on a roller-coaster journey throughout the plot; from the humble beginnings of little Shakuntala Devi to the world class math genius travelling the world and displaying her talent. Vidya Balan is an extraordinary actress, who brings the character to life in such a splendid and refreshing way. Although some clichés may arise during the course of the movie but her ability to embody her character in each scene steals the show. Watching Vidya on screen is delightful, she is charming, confident and humorous; all the fantastic qualities that will produce a good protagonist in a movie.

We are pleased to witness another quality performance in the form of Sanya Malhotra. Malhotra gives the viewers their money’s worth by her captivating performance. She portrays Anu; a young ambitious girl on the cusp breaking free from her mother’s shadow and discovering the woman she is meant to be. The movie is also blessed with other fabulous actors in Amit Sadh and Jisshu Sengupta. Although featured briefly, we can still feel their impact throughout the plot.

As much as we get to feel more attuned to the struggles of the average woman, the movie fails to take us into the moments that shaped Shakuntala’a life; those personal struggles, her preparations, what goes into her genius and so on. There was also a regrettable simplicism in the climax; a story told too often without a clear distinction of this particular plot. However the music, composed by the supremely talented duo Sachin-Jigar deserves a mention for adding  a peppy vibe to the film. It gets a fairly impressive rating of 6.3 out of 10 from IMDB.

Watch the official trailer here.

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