When the trailer of Shakuntala Devi first dropped, it made me wonder that out of all the contemporary Indian actors, there was no one I could imagine in this role, but Vidya Balan. If that’s the magic of Vidya or the role that was tailor-made for her, is something we’ll know after the film premieres on Friday on Amazon Prime Video. However, from what we have seen so far, Vidya takes on the persona of Shakuntala Devi quite well.
In an exclusive virtual conversation with indianexpress.com, Vidya Balan shared her joys of playing Shakuntala Devi, who was nicknamed the “Human Computer”. Vidya too knew Shakuntala as an exemplary mathematician, but as she delved deeper into her life with director Anu Menon, she learnt that the academician “defied every notion you have of a mathematical genius.” “She was so full of life, had a wicked sense of humour. She was like a complex equation,” the actor shared.
While this film is a biopic, Vidya acknowledged that it is “not a puff piece.” What excited her while taking up this project was “the scope to tell Shakuntala Devi’s story as unapologetically as possible.” What the actor said about this not being a “puff piece” intrigued me as many-a-times in Hindi cinema, we see hagiographies in the garb of biographies. Vidya kept the film’s secrets close to her chest but did reveal that we are in for a story that examines the gender dynamics of the time.
“Probably her biggest flaw, as a woman, was that she wanted it all. And as a woman, you are not allowed to have it all,” Vidya Balan revealed. The actor shared that the principal character here did not see the world through a gendered lens. “She did not understand this difference between men and women because she did not define herself as a woman. She saw herself as a person, who happened to be a woman,” the actor said. This, as per Vidya, is the “root of conflict in her person.”
Talking about the gender dynamics of Shakuntala Devi’s time, Vidya also said that roles for women are evolving. In her last film Mission Mangal, we saw her as a scientist, and now, she is playing a mathematician. She laughed and shared that with such academic roles, her “parents are the happiest.”
But on a serious note, she acknowledged the evolution that we are witnessing in Hindi cinema. She proudly said that now “we are being seen more as people, (and) not just defined in terms of our relations with the men in the movie.” The films now give their women a chance to explore their dreams and aspirations, and they are “being seen as people.” “I think that’s a huge shift and that’s very heartening,” Vidya said.
Shakuntala Devi is being released amid the coronavirus pandemic. Theaters all over the country are still closed, but with Amazon Prime Video stepping in, the film is getting a digital release. The theater vs OTT debate has forced us to think if it will be one or the other, but Vidya Balan believes that with these changes, “the horizon has just widened.” In her opinion, there will be content that will be “purely for OTT” because it gives the makers the liberty to experiment. But at the same time, “theaters will continue to survive and thrive because that community experience is unique.”
Vidya Balan starrer Shakuntala Devi starts streaming on July 31 on Amazon Prime Video.
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