By Joginder Tuteja
Pick up a biopic and majority would try to paint a perfect picture of the subject in question. Most of the times even a negative trait is hidden and presented as something positive, whereas the real facts are time and again exaggerated to make the subject come across as a Demi-God no less.
It’s different in case of Shakuntala Devi and that’s what sets it apart. You see a lovely side of the bright young girl who is blossoming into a vivacious woman. However, once she is acknowledged as a genius, you also get to see how she really wants to hold on to that title, and in the process subconsciously ends up doing certain things which seem questionable if seen as an outsider.
That’s the humane tale which director Anu Menon tries to bring on screen, and that too through the lens of the legend’s real life daughter (played by Sanya Malhotra in screen) which makes this Vikram Malhotra film – that has just been premiered on Amazon Prime – special.
What is indeed special is the way in which the film begins. It is astonishing to know that the girl didn’t have any formal education and was in fact ferried across by her father school to school, event to event, to do mathematics shows. This could well have been conveyed as a ‘dukhiyaari’ story but instead is presented in a feel good manner, despite sorrow hidden somewhere. Of course the film comes on its own once Vidya Balan reaches London and through the help of her first love, a Spanish entrepreneur, goes through a makeover and starts traveling world over for her shows.
Each and every sequence out here brings a smile on the fact as you like the childlike enthusiasm that Vidya carries every time she is proven ‘correct’. Thankfully there is no rags to riches to rags tale here as professionally, Shakuntala Devi’s chart only keeps growing higher. However, personally there is quite some turmoil that she finds with her daughter as well as son-in-law (Amit Sadh) which actually ends up becoming the crux of the second half.
This is where the film comes across as rather lengthy too as it becomes a family drama and in the process the spunk that was on display with the stage performances are relegated to a corner. Even that would have been okay since you can’t expect a film to be one dimensional. However a couple of sequences pertaining to power of attorney and the homosexuality angle seem a bit far fetched. Guess this is where one can say that at times, fact is stranger than fiction.
However, fiction is what Shakuntala Devi is not as a movie and that’s why it stays on to be by and large an entertainer. While Amit Sadh seems unrecognisable in a chocolate boy avtar when compared to the bearded beefy look that he has carried in his recent outings, Sanya Malhotra too goes through a makeover in a chic new look that she uses to project her growth from being a 16 year old to a mother. Jishu Sengupta is appropriate as Vidya’s husband in the film.
The show though belongs, and rightly so, to Vidya Balan. She is right up there and the way she has enacted the part of someone from the 20s to the 70s is amazing. She is so spirited; she can literally do anything, both as a character and an actor.
Overall as an entertainer, Shakuntala Devi does its job. It’s a rare biopic which doesn’t come across as a sugar coated hagiography, which most films of this genre are culprit of.