Shakuntala Devi Review: Vidya Balan wins hearts and minds with her magical performance as India’s human computer


Film: Shakuntala Devi

OTT: Amazon Prime Video

Cast: Vidya Balan and Sanya Malhotra

Director: Anu Menon

Rating: 4 Moons

Why be normal when you can be amazing? That's what Anu Menon’s biographical comedy-drama Shakuntala Devi teaches. Based on Indian writer and mental calculator Shakuntala Devi, popularly known as the ‘Human Computer’, the film stars Vidya Balan in the key role. It celebrates the spirit of an independent Indian woman who walks her own path in a highly judgmental society that cannot accept that ‘a woman can be good at Math’.

Mainly set in Bengaluru, Kolkata and London, Shakuntala Devi is the real-life story of an ambitious woman who goes against all odds to make her country proud. Vidya’s film is about dreams, desires and desperation. It’s inspired by the life of a Math genius who ‘never loses’. The film follows Shakuntala’s triumphs, struggles and the complicated bond she had with daughter Anupama Banerji, played by Sanya Malhotra. 

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The story begins with a six-year-old Shakuntala surprising her family by solving difficult Math problems without any formal education. Soon after, her greedy father uses her talent to earn money by making her do stage shows. Upset by her father’s behaviour over the years, Shakuntala moves to London to make her name and become a ‘badi aurat’. Over a short period of time, Shakuntala gets the title of ‘Human Computer’ and makes her country proud.

After gaining fame and money, Shakuntala gets married to Paritosh Banerji (Jisshu Sengupta) and gives birth to a baby girl Anu (Sanya Malhotra). Unfortunately, her desire to become the best mother while handling her career does not go very well and things get out of control in her personal life. What follows is a story of a brave woman, a record-breaking mathematician and above all – a mother. Who says mothers don’t have the right to follow their dreams, after all?

The film beautifully showcases the journey of a woman who wants to achieve all her dreams along with taking care of her child. It shows how a woman is much more than a mother. Filmmaker Anu laces the warm narrative with fun and typical Bollywood drama that makes the film entertaining. At the same time, she keeps the biopic as real as possible. However, a little more information on Shakuntala’s professional achievements could be added for a better understanding of her successful journey. 

Vidya as the sharp and fun-loving Shakuntala Devi delivers a praiseworthy performance. This is one of her finest works. She is terrific as the ambitious Math calculator and equally dedicated as a dutiful mother. Her sweet romance with Jisshu is lovely. And when on a stage solving equations, Vidya thrills with an absolutely throbbing performance. She breathes in perfection and power, switching between the two facets of her character effortlessly.

However, the bonus point definitely goes to Sanya who impresses with her surprisingly good performance. The actress stays in the skin of her character effortlessly and leaves an impact. She opens and closes the film with much conviction and passes on a strong message of her own. Amit Sadh, who plays the role of her husband Ajay, is commendable and natural. Jisshu steals the show as a supportive husband Paritosh.

Due credit must go to Anu Menon’s direction. Nayanika Mahtani and her screenplay flawlessly bring out a story that is emotional, inspiring and thoroughly engaging. The dialogues are empowering and injected with humour. Anu’s writing and Ishita Moitra’s dialogues are brilliant and also the backbone of the film. Music by Sachin–Jigar is soulful and touches the right chord. Cinematographer Keiko Nakahara films several foreign and Indian locations splendidly, with both charm and comfort. Antara Lahiri’s editing is crisp and pleasant.

Shakuntala Devi captures every important aspect that a good biographical drama needs. It takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride and has the power to leave the audience speechless, vidya kasam!

PeepingMoon gives Shakuntala Devi 4 Moons!