The Mathematics of Stardom- Shakuntala Devi
It is 1:00 am, I am done with my work for the day,the television screen blinks back at me, beckoning me to come dive into some quality content. I give in, sigh, and promise myself that I will try to sleep on time tomorrow.So, I surf on, and soon, I am glued onto this film called ‘Shakuntala Devi’, based on the rollercoaster journey of a woman who was referred to as “The Human Computer”, tracing her footsteps to fame from India to England in the 1950s.The comfort of loving cinema lies in the fact that as long as good cinema exists, you can never truly be alone, because your mind is always ready to escape to the world of wonder, hues, emotions, characters, and perspectives that it furnishes for its viewers.
In this JLF London at the British Library session, actor Vidya Balan, screenwriter Nayanika Mahtani in conversation with Vani Tripathi Tikoo, talk about the experiences they shared in bringing to life their biopic on mathematical genius Shakuntala Devi. The film, as Vani Tripathi put it, indeed “speaks to you”- it not only chose to celebrate the wonder that was Devi but also narrate her life story with all the fault lines as well. Nayanika Mahtani, who wrote the script, recalls a childhood memory of the vibrant “show person” that Shakuntala Devi was; it was something that stayed with her for years.
Balan, who has won several accolades for the diverse roles she has performed over the years spoke about the continued trend of objectification of women in cinema, and the joy of breaking the barriers and stereotypes through art.Being the versatile performer that she is, she steps into this mathematical prodigy’s shoes with ease- “the abandonment, the absolute curiosity of Devi, connecting to her small vulnerabilities is what drew me into the story,” Vidya quipped. As the session progressed, they discussed the tumultuous relationship that Devi and her daughter shared before finallybeing able to truly understand each other. Vidya added- “As mothers, as daughters, as wives, as sisters, as women, we often tend to be ridden with guilt.”As Mahtani noted, that despite all their differences, the mother-daughter duo, “were both bound by a common strand of honesty and the courage to own their choices”.
Towards the end of the session, Vani Tripathi asked a very pertinent question-“Is the future of entertainment going to change, wherein perhaps women occupy the centrepiece of films? Vidya Balan,with a big smile, enthusiastically nodded in response,“Cinema is constantly evolving, italso remains a reflection of reality. Women are taking centrestage in the real world;the more that happens, the more you are going to see that happening on-screen.” In the sphere of cinema, there lies tremendous hope, as a more conscious narrative has begun to emerge, one which not only shows the world as it is, but also what the world can be.