The first time I heard about the human-computer, Shakuntala Devi, was in my teenage. I was fascinated by the magic she did with numbers. Having read a couple of books by the mathematics prodigy, I was elated when I heard Shakuntala Devi’s biopic was to be released. Finally came the fateful day when the film aired on a leading OTT platform in India. With high hopes and anticipation, I watched the entire movie.
A Daughter’s Prejudice
Guess what? To me, the title ‘Shakuntala Devi’ appears to be a clickbait. You are enticed to watch the movie thinking it will be a tribute to the mathematical genius and her notable work as a writer, LGBTQ advocate, social work, and her superhuman abilities. Instead, the movie turns out to be her daughter’s prejudiced towards her.
The core of the movie is not the genius’s achievements, rather it shows that an ambitious woman abandons her family, controls her child, lies for fame, and runs after money. I did not expect that in the name of a tribute so much hatred will be served on the platter to the audience; so much, that the facts were twisted to show her in the bad light.
Hiding Facts and Portraying a Negative Image
Shakuntala Devi, in the documentary, For Straights Only, hints about her first husband, Paritosh Banerjee, being gay, and later being divorced for the same. However, the movie depicts that she lies about her husband’s sexuality to make her book launch sensational. Shakuntala Devi was an LGBTQ rights activist author in India, at a time when homosexuality and heterosexuality were criminalized.
Shakuntala Devi biopic is ‘Drama and Nothing’
Anupama Banerjee, Shakuntala Devi’s daughter, contributed a lot of information in the biographical melodrama. To be precise, it was a lot of melodrama and less biographical. The entire movie is based on Shakuntala Devi as seen from her daughter’s lens. I am sure there must be another part of the story. What the story misses is the essence of Shakuntala Devi. Whatever she loved doing, whatever she achieved in her life, her political stint, and desires, her notable books, is just brushed upon.
She was a Human with Emotions, and not a Computer
The movie depicts that she shuns her family because all they cared about was her money. But there is more to it; she abandoned them because of the physical and emotional abuse. In an interview with Hinduism Today, a Hawaiin magazine run my monastic community, she reveals “When I was young I didn’t want to do the shows because I didn’t like them. My father would beat up my mother in anger, and my mother would beat me up. It was a very traumatic experience.” The movie shows her as a heartless and emotionless woman who can never accept failure; not out of determination but out of arrogance. What the movie fails to depict is Shakuntala Devi too was human full of emotions. Physical and emotional abuse as a child, betrayal by men in her life, marriage to a heterosexual and later divorce, her daughter’s behavior towards her, all these things, and more. Any human, being a mathematical genius or not, a Guinness book record holder or not, will get severely affected by each of these instances. But the impact on her psyche is never touched upon. The movie could be aptly called a daughter’s complaints to her mother.
Dear Daughter, Give her due-credit at least
The movie starts with the daughter suing her mother for destroying her financially. But was it not her mother who bought those properties for her in the first place? Okay, maybe the daughter had a business expansion, but even in that case, why sue her, rather considering equity share, offer her a settlement. By now, I am not even sure whether the daughter hates her mother or is jealous of her.
Does it Take to be a Mother to Understand Your Mother?
I too share a love and hate relationship with my mother. I too have a daughter, but that does not change my equation with my mother. I love her for the things I loved her earlier; I hate her for reasons I hated her earlier. But the movie relies on the stereotype- everything gets better after a child, except, here the things get right not between a husband and wife but between mother and daughter. Anupama, Shakuntala Devi’s daughter, has a change in heart, as she becomes a mother. So basically if things worked as Anupama had planned and she went on to not have a child, she would have never understood her mother’s importance in her life. But as she becomes a mother herself, she understands the contributions her mother made to her life.
The Message the Movie Conveys
The movie was supposed to depict an empowered, ambitious, unapologetic woman, who followed her dreams and lived on her terms. But the woman, who survived the male-dominated world alone, was shown all that but also a mean, cold-hearted, money-making and arrogant lady who keeps aside the need of her daughter.
There is already enough judgment working woman face. A selfish mother, an uncaring wife, a money-minded lady, and whatnot. The movie just adds fuel to the fire. My in-laws and everyone else’s in-laws, who thought that intelligent and ambitious women break homes, can substantiate their thoughts more.
I just wished the director did more justice to the fierce lady and paid the homage the notable soul as she deserved.