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Monday, August 10, 2020

Vidya Balan: Shakuntala Devi was a fearless woman with a wicked sense of humour

Vidya Balan on why Shakuntala Devi's story was important, the challenging part of portraying the character and working with Sanya Malhotra.

Written by A. Kameshwari | New Delhi | Updated: July 30, 2020 8:32:29 pm
vidya balan in shakuntala devi Vidya Balan in and as Shakuntala Devi. (Photo: Vidya Balan/Instagram)

Bollywood actor Vidya Balan is all set to impress the audience with her performance in Shakuntala Devi. The Anu Menon directorial will release on Amazon Prime Video on July 31.

During a media interaction, Vidya, who portrays mathematical genius Shakuntala Devi in the biographical drama, spoke about her character and the challenges she faced during the making of the film.

Here are excerpts from the conversation:

Q. How was your maths while growing up? 

I was not bad at all. I have been curious about numbers. During childhood, whenever I went out, I used to add the numbers on number plates of cars or buses. Thanks to Shakuntala Devi, I have fallen in love with numbers all over again.

Q. How would you describe Shakuntala Devi? 

I have never come across a woman like Shakuntala Devi. She is fearless. She lived life to the fullest. She was a mathematical genius, wrote books, was an astrologer, joined politics, traveled the world. She was also apparently a great storyteller. She had a wicked sense of humour. So, I feel she has inspired me. She was unapologetically herself even during the time when most women had not found their voice. She loved dressing up. She loved food. She loved life. However, she also saw maths in everything she did. If we are able to see that while watching the film, I think we won’t be scared of the subject anymore.

Q. What was the most interesting yet difficult part of the biopic?

Doing the maths shows was difficult yet interesting because for Shakuntala Devi it came naturally. She had a gift. She was a genius. Thankfully, I did not have to work out the answers (of the mathematical problems), but I had to enjoy the numbers in a way she did. I had to interact with people like she did. She would use humour. She would involve and engage with people in her performances. She had an attitude towards maths. She felt maths was just like magic. I had to feel the same way to perform with the same energy. I had to work on the way she would perform on the stage with swag and speed. So, I think that was the most challenging part.

I was enjoying challenging myself in learning different combinations and numbers. I used the sing-song method to keep the numbers in mind. I used to do that even while growing up.

Q. You met Shakuntala Devi’s daughter. How did that help you in portraying the character? 

It helped me hugely because who would know Shakuntala Devi better than her daughter. Anupama Banerji and her husband were really wonderful, forthcoming and honest with me. They would share incidents and events from Shakuntala’s life, which gave me an insight into who she really was as a person. I will always be grateful to them.

Q. In the film, Sanya Malhotra plays your daughter. How was it working with her? 

We got along very easily. I never felt that we were working together for the first time. Initially, I thought she was a quiet one. But when I was on the sets, I saw her chit-chatting and having fun. That’s when I realised she was quiet maybe because she was getting into the skin of her character of Anupama, who is bit shy and reserved.

One thing I must tell you is that Sanya transforms completely into someone else on camera. It is amazing to see her slip in and out of the character. Also, a mother and a daughter’s relationship is very unique and hasn’t been explored in Bollywood enough. So, I am extremely excited. Being a daughter myself, I know that this relationship has everything – love, care and taking each other for granted – which is what makes the story so unique.

Q. Shakuntala Devi was a Guinness World Record holder. Do you have a dream to set or break a world record? 

If there was a world record of spreading love and happiness, I would definitely want to break that.

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