Bengaluru moulded Shakuntala Devi: biopic director

Bengaluru moulded Shakuntala Devi: biopic director

The ‘human computer’ pulled off mathematical feats that left the world awe-struck. She lived her life without regret and embraced even her failures

When Anu Menon met Shakuntala Devi’s daughter Anupama Banerji in London four years ago to talk about a biopic on the mathematics genius, the one thing they unanimously agreed on was that Vidya Balan would be perfect to play the role. 

The film, released on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, is based on the life and times of Shakuntala Devi, famous the world over as the ‘human computer’. The story is told from her daughter’s perspective. 

“I met Anupama three years after her mother had passed away and in that six-hour conversation, I found a girl grappling with his void in her life. To many of us, Shakuntala was larger-than-life but Anupama had this tumultuous relationship, and by telling her story now is more than just selling her mother’s genius. I found a girl who felt she hadn’t celebrated her mother enough when she was alive and this could be her catharsis,” says Anu.

In a sense, the film is a portrayal of the woman behind the genius. The mathematician, Guinness Book of World Records holder, astrologer and author hailed from Bengaluru, but Anu feels “she belonged to the world”. 

“She lived in Bengaluru, London, New York and Mumbai, and travelled to different parts of the world. So she is actually a globetrotter and believed that the world was her oyster,” Anu says.

But it was perhaps Shakuntala Devi’s upbringing in cosmopolitan Bengaluru that made her the woman she was. “She came from the Bangalore of the 1930s and I don’t think there was any other place in the country that was like Bangalore, with its sense of progressiveness. It’s a place where you can chase your dreams without pressure. She did come back to Bengaluru after globetrotting… it is an easy and non-judgemental city,” says Anu.

Putting together a two-hour movie about her was a challenge. To pick the most important aspects of Shakuntala Devi’s life and to tell her story in two hours was a challenge, says Anu. 

“I had to make the conscious decision of capturing the essence — the way she embraced her talent, how she lived unapologetically, how she had failures but owned them."

As a filmmaker, Anu chose to highlight the part that resonated with her the most — the love story between mother and daughter. 

For a woman who achieved many things, Shakuntala Devi was way ahead of her times. And according to Anu, she may have been too early for our times as well. 

“Shakuntala was someone who did what she felt like doing. I don’t think she did it because she wanted to follow a trend. She was a feminist before it was even a movement. She never saw herself as a female mathematician — she just knew that numbers came to her and she embraced them,” she says. 

In a world of Twitter now where no one wants to be told they are wrong, she would have been refreshing. She didn’t care about being perfect. She took each failure as a victory. That was her motto, says Anu.

Director and screenwriter Anu Menon

Anu Menon started her career with short films 'Ravi Goes to School' and 'Baby', a documentary on a Bengali domestic help who wrote a bestseller. Her debut film was the romantic comedy 'London, Paris, New York' in 2012 starring Ali Zafar and Aditi Rao Hydari. She then did 'Waiting' in 2016 and worked with non-mainstream actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Kalki Koechlin and Suhasini Mainrathnam. She also directed web series 'Four More Shots Please' on Amazon Prime Video. 

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