Movie Review | Shakuntala Devi: Vidya Balan is all correct in the movie of the year!


Shakuntala Devi movie review is here. Starring Vidya Balan as Shakuntala Devi, the movie is a biographical account of the mathematics genius, writer and astrologer Shakuntala Devi who was also known as the ‘human computer’. Written and directed by Anu Menon. Shakuntala Devi is produced by Sony Pictures Networks India and Vikram Malhotra under his banner Abundantia Entertainment. Also featuring Jisshu Sengupta, Sanya Malhotra and Amit Sadh. The movie will have its worldwide premier on Prime Video on 31 July 2020.

Watch Shakuntala Devi – Official Trailer

Immediate reaction when the end credits roll
‘Vidya’ Kasam (read god promise) Shakuntala Devi starring the incredible Vidya Balan is all correct in the movie of the year and perhaps the best biopic to come in recent years in Bollywood mainstream.

The story of Shakuntala Devi


The incredibly inspiring life story of the Indian mathematician genius, writer, astrologer – the Human computer Shakuntala Devi is adapted for the screen by Anu Menon and Nayanika Mahtani.

Born in Bengaluru, Karnataka to a Kannada Brahmin family. Young 8-year-old Shakuntala (Araina Nand) is a God gifted genius, the prodigy in maths started solving toughest puzzles at a very young age. Looking at the extraordinary talent of her younger daughter, the elder Anu (Chahat Tewani) being physically challenged. Shakuntala’s father played by Prakash Belawadi starts taking her to shows in schools, etc. where Shakuntala displays her rare extraordinary talents and earns money. She soon becomes the bread earner of the family and later attains world fame as Shakuntala Devi (Vidya Balan) – The Human Computer and enters the Guinness World Records. But life has its turns. The movie actually begins with Anupama Banerji (Sanya Malhotra) daughter of Shakuntala Devi filing a criminal case against her world-famous mother. Why the daughter of a genius is against her own mother. All is correct in numbers then what went wrong with Shakuntala Devi as a person. All this is told in the rest of the movie in due course moving from back to forth.

Read: Vidya Balan’s quirky dialogues as a Maths Genius

Shakuntala Devi movie review


Clad in a saree, a young woman with two pony tails walks with supreme confidence, with no formal education and broken English. She impresses the scholars in England and promptly says to her Spanish admirer Javier (Luca Calvani) when he says that she needs a makeover. I won’t leave my Saree, pat comes the reply.

Gifted actors like Vidya Balan have the knack to get into the skin of the characters instantly, but here in Shakuntala Devi there is something overwhelmingly rare.

Anu Menon and Nayanika Mahtani’s dramatization of the genius Shakuntala Devi for screen apart from the highly uplifting rags to riches saga is equally a human story, a triumph of womanhood, a toast to motherhood, journey of a child to a daughter to a mother.

Vidya Balan and the real Shakuntala Devi
Vidya Balan and the real Shakuntala Devi

Writer director Anu Menon along with her co-writer Nayanika Mahtani ensures that the biopic of Shakuntala Devi doesn’t turn into a hagiography. The genius who never goes wrong with her numbers falters as a person. She is bold, independent, ambitious and successful and knows what she wants but at times she knowingly /unknowingly miscalculates and suffers.

The human angle and conflict in the life and relationships of Shakuntala Devi makes this biopic as the most enriching experience in recent times on screen.

We have had Neerja, Paan Singh Tomar, Bhaag Mikha Bhaag, (am talking about the commercial Bollywood mainstream) before; now Shakuntala Devi enters the league with more applause due to its human conflict.

It’s heartening when Anupama Banerji (Sanya Malhotra) says she hates maths.

A woman with no proper academic education solves all mathematical problems, she even pens a book on homosexuality – World of Homosexuals (the first study of homosexuality in India) turns astrologer travels world but her daughter wants her to be ‘normal’.

Shakuntala Devi was way ahead of her time; she is a dignified flagbearer of an independent woman. She faltered but never altered her dreams and ambitions.

The movie is also a message on dreams and ambition and a statement on ‘perfect’ parenthood.

How director Anu Menon’s daughter prompted her to make ‘Shakuntala Devi’

It won’t be a surprise if Vidya Balan walks with major awards in the acting department. She completely owns Shakuntala Devi and delivers a powerful portrait in a performance that is perfectly nuanced offering a spectrum of emotions.

Sanya Malhotra as the daughter excels. Her concerns are human and very ‘normal’; she strongly adds value to the movie.

Jisshu Sengupta as Paritosh Banerji Shakuntala’s husband is brilliant.

Amit Sadh in a shorter but significant role as Ajay – Anupama’s husband is fantastic as the calm, composed and understanding guy. Prakash Belawadi as Shakuntala’s father is competent. Good support comes from Luca Calvani, Sheeba Chaddha, Araina Nand (8 year old Shakuntala), Spandan Chaturvedi (12 year old Shakuntala, Chahat Tewani as Anu.

Production values are top notch. Cinematography by Keiko Nakahara is a treat for the eye and the movie looks colourful. Production Design by Meenal Agarwal and Vintee Bansal is apt. Set design by Harshvardhan Purohit transports the audience to the era. Shalaka Bhosle’s hair style and make up by Vikram Gaikwad and Shreyas Mhatre is fine. Music by Sachin–Jigar is functional while the background score by Karan Kulkarni adds to the momentum.

The biopic has its set of flaws. Some detailing is mysteriously missing. Shakuntala Devi’s father worked as trapeze artist, lion tamer, tightrope walker, and magician in a circus. But that fact is omitted from the movie. The reason for Javier’s exit is not explained. The homosexuality angle is not delved further.

Final words
Shakuntala Devi is a triumph at multiple levels. An all correct and extremely powerful Vidya Balan in the movie of the year. A highly uplifting biopic, which is not at all shy in admitting the flaws of its central character. An emotional mother-daughter story. A statement on women empowerment and independence. A rich and insightful cinematic experience. All in one. This story of Shakuntala Devi is the story that needs to be told and repeated. India gave Aryabhata to the world and then Shakuntala Devi – The Human Computer who calculated faster than any computer of her times. ‘add’ it to your must list before you die. Going with an extra for ‘Vidya’.

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

pic/poster courtesy : Amazon Prime Video

Critic Rating