Shakuntala Devi movie review: Vidya Balan is flawless in a mostly faithful look at a flawed genius

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

What’s hot

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.

What’s not

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.

BL Verdict

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.

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Shakuntala Devi song Rani Hindustani: Vidya Balan flaunts her desi swag in western style in this fun track

After an impressive promo, the makers of Vidya Balan starrer Shakuntala Devi dropped the track titled Rani Hindustani, which has a fun and peppy vibe. Talking about the song, we the human computer aka Shakuntala Devi trying to learn new habits and culture in the west but her Indian-ness comes out everytime, which wins our hearts. The song is crooned by Sunidhi Chauhan, who perfectly adds the needed element through her voice. The lyrics are penned by Vayu while the music is composed by duo Sachin – Jigar. Directed by Anu Menon, the film also features Sanya Malhotra, Amit Sadh and Jisshu Sengupta in key roles. It will stream from July 31st on Amazon Prime Video. Also Read – RIP Sushant Singh Rajput: ‘No one can be blamed if someone decides to take their own life,’ says Shakuntala Devi actress Vidya Balan

BL Verdict:Vidya Balan aka Shakuntala Devi’s fun side in Rani Hindustani song will win your hearts. Also Read – Did you know that Shakuntala Devi’s first song, Pass Nahi Toh Fail Nahi, was shot at Vidya Balan’s alma mater?

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Vidya Balan REVEALS why Shakuntala Devi will release on OTT platform and not wait for theatres to reopen

Recently, we saw makers of Amitabh Bachchan-Ayushmann Khurrana’s Gulabo Sitabo and Vidya Balan‘s Shakuntala Devi along with few regional filmmakers announcing that their films will directly release on OTT platform instead of theatres as the cinema halls are shut due to coronavirus pandemic. While many distributors and exhibitors got miffed with this decision, producers called it a way to recover their investments. Now actress, Vidya Balan, who plays the titular character in Shakuntala Devi, revealed why the makers of the opted for an OTT release and not waited for the theatres to reopen. Also Read – WTF Wednesday: Multiplexes crying foul over films releasing on OTT platforms is so hypocritical when they had no qualms running single screens to the ground

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Delighted to announce that you will get to see #ShakuntalaDevi very soon on @primevideoin with all your loved ones ?. Thrilled that we will be able to entertain you in these unprecedented times . #WorldPremiereOnPrime #ShakuntalaDeviOnPrime @sanyamalhotra_ @senguptajisshu @theamitsadh @sonypicsprodns @abundantiaent @directormenon @ivikramix @shikhaarif.sharma

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Also Read – After INOX, PVR expresses disappointment on films releasing directly on OTT, says, ‘Cinema exhibition has regularly faced completion’

Talking to India Today, Vidya Balan said, “I understand theatre owners being miffed, but Shakuntala Devi has already missed the scheduled release date, and later we may not have gotten the desired window. So we had to do what we had to do. Now, people are reacting to a situation, rather than responding to it. Shakuntala Devi was meant for a theatre release but this is a unique situation, and we have to look at the larger picture. We will, of course, go back to theatres. But I’m also glad we have avenues like OTT platforms to turn to at this time.” Also Read – From Gulabo Sitabo to Shakuntala Devi biopic: Here are 7 anticipated films releasing exclusively on Amazon Prime

Speaking about the film, she added, “Shakuntala Devi is the most fascinating women I’ve ever come across. She was a great mathematician, of course, but she also had humour. she was living her life, unapologetically, she broke norms, challenged conventions, she was cool. And while I always did well in Math, now I realise that I actually used to enjoy numbers. That’s my realisation post Shakuntala Devi.” The Paa actress also spoke about her short film Natkhat as she said, “Natkhat is the story of a mother and a child. The mother, through her stories, teaches the boy about gender equality, respecting women. It’s not preachy. And these are important lessons.”

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After INOX, PVR expresses disappointment on films releasing directly on OTT, says, ‘Cinema exhibition has regularly faced completion’

A few days ago there was an announcement made by the makers of Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana starrer Gulabo Sitabo about the film releasing directly on OTT. Soon after the announcement, theatre chain INOX expressed their disappointment. “INOX would like to express extreme displeasure and disappointment on an announcement made by a production house today, to release their movie directly on an OTT platform by skipping the theatrical window run. The decision of the production house to deviate from the globally prevalent content windowing practice is alarming and disconcerting,” read an official statement from INOX. Also Read – Ghoomketu Teaser: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Anurag Kashyap provide the laughs while Ranveer Singh and Amitabh Bachchan’s cameos tease

Then on Friday, the makers of Vidya Balan starrer Shakuntala Devi, announced their decision to release their movie on OTT. Five more films — Tamil legal drama Ponmagal Vandhal , Tamil-Telugu bilingual movie Penguin, Sufiyum Sujatayum in Malayalam, Kannada features Law and French Biryani will also be releasing on OTT. Also Read – From Gulabo Sitabo to Shakuntala Devi biopic: Here are 7 anticipated films releasing exclusively on Amazon Prime

Now, PVR has also expressed their displeasure on the issue. “We are disappointed with some of our producers deciding to go straight to the streaming platform/s. We were hoping that the producers would accede to our request to hold back their film’s release till cinemas reopen.” Also Read – Mouni Roy praises Ranbir Kapoor-Alia Bhatt’s chemistry; says, ‘They look super-duper cute both on and off screen’

The statement further read, “This is not the first time when films are being premiered on a streaming platform/s. Cinema exhibition has regularly faced competition from new emerging distribution platforms over the last many years. Yet, it has continued to enjoy cine-goers patronage and affinity.”

PVR expects people to visit cinema halls after this crisis ends. “As PVR, we believe that the theatrical release is the best way for audiences to experience the labor and creative genius of our filmmakers. This has been so for decades and not just in India but globally. The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has caused an unfortunate shutdown of cinemas. We are confident, once we get to the other side of this crisis, there would be enough and more pent up demand from cine-goers who have been cooped up at homes for the last many weeks.”

We’ll have to wait and watch if there be more films taking the OTT route directly.

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