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π‘Ίπ’‰π’‚π’Œπ’–π’π’•π’‚π’π’‚ π‘«π’†π’—π’Š π‘Ήπ’†π’—π’Šπ’†π’˜: A film that falls short due to its inconsistent voice and inability to find a balance.

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or a film that intends to celebrate the mathematical genius of Shakuntala Devi, the woman registered in the Guinness Book of World Records as a human faster than a computer, Shakuntala Devi is at its worst when it gives us a look at the mathematician that she was, and finds a better base of drama and emotions when the film explores her personal life.

Starring Vidya Balan as the titular Shakuntala Devi, the film chronicles her journey spanning over six decades from being a young prodigy, to a world-famous mathematician who rose beyond her personal relationships, finding herself in numbers more than any relationship that those around her wanted to chain her by.

Right at the beginning of the film, writers Nayanika Mahtani, Anu Menon, and Ishita Moitra take some creative choices that both resolve and convolute some of the problems that come with a narrative like this. To tell the life-story of a mathematician is inherently a challenge. The language of cinema is in words, not numbers. Mathematics, then, becomes a discomforting talent to represent on screen, especially to an Indian audience.

Numbers can be complicated, which requires the narrative to tone down the complexity of the genius of the woman in question, making the challenge to uphold her brilliance a steeper as the film rambles across its first hour. The film takes care of this by introducing us to Shakuntala Devi the mother first, even if it is for that little glance that Vidya Balan nails to perfection.

In the flashback, we are introduced to Shakuntala the daughter and sister, as we see the early examples of her genius. The setting looks apt, and Shakuntala’s angst against her parents β€” especially her mother β€” feels like a solid beginning. But as soon as the film enters the terrain of Shakuntala the mathematician, things start to waver. The film becomes loud, a bit too jovial as we see Shakuntala jumping from one mathematical problem to another. The calculations are simplified for us by making the numbers dance around on the screen, while a chirpy Shakuntala mesmerizes white men with her brilliance.

Balan is especially energetic in this section of the film. In the hands of a lesser actor, this section could have collapsed completely, but Balan somehow keeps us invested even when the narrative itself does not do much in the first hour to help her cause. Events turn into a montage and her rise becomes more of pointers than a lived experience.

Thankfully, things improve in the second hour, when the film finally touches upon its major conflict. Shakuntala Devi is an ace mathematician, but she is not quite that good when it comes to her domestic space. A toughened relationship with her husband (Jisshu Sengupta) and her daughter (Sanya Malhotra) makes her love affair with mathematics a little rocky. For the first time, Shakuntala has to make a choice. A choice between her first love and her familial responsibilities as a mother.

It is here that Shakuntala Devi reaches its pinnacle. The conflict is well-realized and the confrontations between Shakuntala and Anupama, her daughter, are wonderfully written and presented. Malhotra is brilliant in this section as a mother forced to live with the fact that unlike a clichΓ©d idea of a mother, her mother loved mathematics more than she could ever love her own daughter β€” or any human, for that matter.

The chirpy vibe that the film chooses as its storytelling pitch feels more mature here. What felt tacky in the first hour settles into a good family drama, exploring a side of Shakuntala Devi that rarely finds mentions in a quick Google search. After all, there is more to genius’ than their genius. At the end of the day, they are human too.

Shakuntala Devi promises to be one of the most exuberant biopics in recent times but falls short due to its inconsistent voice and inability to find a balance between the language of cinematic storytelling and numbers. Powered by a tremendous central performance by Vidya Balan and an able supporting presence of Sanya Malhotra, Amit Sadh, and Jisshu Sengupta, Shakuntala Devi is an indifferent film about a definitive figure of our times. It is an important reminder of the genius of Shakuntala Devi, juxtaposing it with the turmoil of her family life; but one is left dissatisfied with the way her genius is touched upon, almost rushing past it to reach the more emotionally rich conflict that gives the film its most memorable bits.

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