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Movie Review: ‘Shakuntala Devi’ (Amazon Prime)

When Vidya Balan was confirmed to play the protagonist’s role of Shakuntala Devi in the biopic, much of the audience will have been excited to see how she would essay the role. And after the first season of popular web-series ‘Four More Shots Please!”, director Anu Menon was about to wow with her magic once again with ‘Shakuntala Devi’, which started streaming on Amazon Prime Video on 31st July. On paper, if you add to this, the talented ensemble cast including Sanya Malhotra, Amit Sadh and Jisshu Sengupta, this film seems to create some excitement but does it really live upto that in its entirety?

When her mathematical genius is realised at the tender age of five, Shakuntala ends up becoming a source of income for her family, with her father booking shows so that she can show off her talent and earn money. One day when they return home, they arrive to her older sister having passed away. For years Shakuntala holds her sister Sharda’s death against her mother because she didn’t take her sister to the doctor. When older, Shakuntala moves to London alone but has a very negative relationship with her parents. She meets Paritosh while she’s travelling around showcasing her talent and they fall in love. But when she has her own daughter, will she choose family over her career?

Menon has kept the on-screen treatment of this story highly entertaining, it has to be said. It is confirmed at the start that this version is through the eyes of Shakuntala Devi’s real daughter Anupama and it really comes across in this adaptation how the relationships she had were the ones that eventually decided her fate – so to speak. Menon successfully puts across the many conflicts Shakuntala deals with in her life – essayed fabulously by child artist Araina Nand and Balan. She helps the audiences understand the different perspectives and the strengths and flaws of each of the characters so beautifully. It really touches your heart.

Balan was always going to make a fantastic Shakuntala Devi but exactly how fantastic is something you really don’t understand until you watch the film. She, quite frankly, becomes everything that Shakuntala lived – the many looks, the many emotions, the many driving forces. Another actress would not have played this role in quite the same way. Malhotra, who play’s Shakuntala’s daughter Anupama, is applauseworthy in this role. She also ages in the film but the transitions she goes through even in thought process is performed fabulously by Malhotra. It’s a joy for the viewer to see her excel in this part. Amit Sadh plays Anupama’s boyfriend and then husband, Ajay, and he immediately seems to win you over. He’s kind, understanding, supportive… just like every life partner should be. However, the best thing about Ajay is that he loves Anupama just as she is, he doesn’t try to change her or talk her around. Sadh plays this role well, after the rugged ‘Breathe Into The Shadows’, ‘Yaara’ and ‘Avrodh – The Siege Within’ – all of which released this month. Jisshu Sengupta plays the very handsome Paritosh and his chemistry with Balan is decent and he is always great is the roles we see him in. He’s no different in this film.

Watch this movie for a light-hearted, fun, poignant and feel-good film. It brings together several genres in a positive way – comedy, drama and wholesome entertainment. You’re in awe of Shakuntala Devi’s talent and would be forgiven if you keep having to remind yourself that this story was someone’s real life. There’s not much that goes wrong for this film, apart from maybe that it won’t tick everyone’s boxes. The performances are great, the treatment works, the music is also decent… but it could be identified as a “chick flick”, so to speak, which may not be everyone’s cuppa. However, if you’re looking for an easy watch with your family which is an inspirational story centred not only on the woman touted as the “human computer” but which gives a great insight into the mother-daughter relationship, this is your film! Trust me, you won’t go wrong.