Biopics in Indian cinema, be it Bollywood news, Kollywood, Tollywood or any other industry veer toward the hagiographic path way too often. While films like Azhar, Thackeray, N.T.R: Kathanayakudu, N.T.R: Mahanayakudu, Sarbjit, Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi and Mary Kom have completely distorted facts; others like Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Jodhaa Akbar and Sanju dilute or ignore certain important facts, ending up as great cinema, but just decent biopics; while there are but a handful such as Neerja, Mahamati and The Legend of Bhagat Singh that have got both being cinematically wonderful and factually accurate. Vidya Balan’s Shakuntala Devi, which has just premiered on Amazon Prime manages to squeeze into the last, rate category, owing to its mostly faithful presentation of a genius mind yet flawed individual, even if a slightly lesser piece of cinema to the last three aforementioned titles. Also Read – Vidya Balan opens up on the real reason Shakuntala Devi is not releasing in theatres, and it totally makes sense [Exclusive]
Scroll down for my full Shakuntala Devi review: Also Read – Amit Sadh opens up about watching Sushant Singh Rajput’s Dil Bechara and why the audience can no longer be silenced [Exclusive]
What’s it about
For the uninitiated, Shakuntala Devi is a biopic on the unbelievable, unprecedented genius of its central character, which also takes a deeply personal look at her private life. Also Read – Vidya Balan on bringing alive Shakuntala Devi: We never wanted to play down her swag
Vidya Balan…Vidya Balan…Vidya Balan. The genius of acting meets the genius of mathematics and the union is a match made in heaven. There isn’t a better word other than ‘flawless’, which I can find to lavish praise on Vidya as Shakuntala Devi, but one should be seriously invented. Anu Menon and Nayanika Mahtani’s screenplay does well to traverse the length, breath and depth of Shakuntala’s character — the good, the bad and the ugly of it — reveling in her achievements, not judging her life choices, taking an unapologetic, unabashed look at her complexities, however inspiring or selfish they may seem at times.
Also, kudos to the real-life Anupama Banerji, Shakuntala’s daughter, for holding little back in her inputs, and it pays rich dividends that an actress of Sanya Malhotra’s caliber portrays her. Getting marvellous actors like Amit Sadh and Jisshu Sengupta to play the men in the movie also doesn’t hurt as doesn’t Karan Kulkarni’s background score, Keiko Nakahara’s camerawork and Antara Lahiri’s largely satisfying cuts.
As good as Anu’s script is, her direction falter in a few places, especially in the beginning, when the movie takes some time to get going. Certain scenes at the start also appear a bit disjointed, and this again, seems more like a narrative rather than an editing hiccup. Plus, as courageous as the truths faced in the movie are, certain vital aspects, like the homosexuality of Shakuntala’s husband and her formative years as a child prodigy are merely touched upon rather than dived into as is her worldwide fame, which needed a bit more attention. Also, the transformation of her daughter from the friction she felt with the mother in whose shadow she always lived to total admiration is too sudden and abrupt. Sachin–Jigar’s songs are also a major letdown, and their one good composition for the film, isn’t even part of the narrative.
Shakuntala Devi is a brave and bare look at every unbelievable as well as uneasy aspect of its enigmatic eponymous character, and the faithfulness itself makes it better than so many Bollywood biopics. That being said, the disjointedness in the beginning, abruptness at the end and stubbornness to not dive further into certain vital aspects of the math prodigy’s journey, makes it stop just short of being a great film, even though it’s a great . Worry not though, because whenever the film falter, Vidya Balan is there to shoulder it with her flawlessness, delivering one of the most best performances you’ll ever be privileged to witness on screen. I’m going with 3.5/5 stars, of which 0.5 stars are for Vidya’s brilliance alone.