What do you expect in a movie which is based on a mathematician’s life? I expected that it will tell us about how he\she became a mathematician and what all struggles they went through in the path of becoming a mathematician. So, I watched this movie “Shakuntala Devi – Human Computer” with these expectations but found it to be some feminist stuff.
The movie starts with the little Shakuntala at a village near Bangalore. She is shown ‘miraculously’ doing calculations in her mind and how her father uses her to earn money. She tells her mother that “I am the father as I earn money”. A feminist propaganda to show they are equal to men and they want women to think that they are the ‘man’ of the house, who earns money. She is also shown as angry with her mother for listening to her father. It was rather odd, as it showed a young Shakuntala Devi turning into a male hating bitch early in her life.
She grows up and this grown-up part is played by Vidya Balan who is a feminist icon. The Human Computer Shakuntala continues performing Maths tricks at different places. The movie runs slow and struggles to create a ‘wow’ moment. Vidya Balan does not look like a young girl but the movie was desperate to show a ‘young Shakuntala Devi’.
How she is solving the difficult Maths tricks is still a question. Young Shakuntala falls in love with a man who refuses to marry her, and she points a gun at him and wanted to kill him. Next scene is cut to London, the audience by now is super confused about how she got away with the attempt to murder and how she reached London. The “No” by a man makes an already male hater Shakuntala a bigger male hater and definitely doesn’t portray her well. She says, “मैं बड़ा आदमी नहीं, बड़ी औरत बनूँगी” (I will become a big woman, not a big man), shows she was more bothered about her gender than her skills.
Feminists by that line wanted to show that even women can develop great skills in Mathematics, a field that is almost devoid of any woman. However, the movie never showed how she had developed the skills. If it was a god gifted skill to her, then it was a rarest of a rare case and can’t prove that women can master Mathematics skills like Shakuntala Devi did, as she herself used to say, “I can do it but cannot explain how”. So, it was a chance that she has solved mathematical questions and was not a developed skill.
If by making this movie, feminists wanted to show that the gender bias in Mathematics is unjustified and women can also develop great Mathematics skills, then that has failed miserably. Rather after watching this movie, you will get confirmation that the gender bias in Mathematics is justified and it’s not easy to have such great skills unless its a God given gift.
However, as her Maths trick continued, and she continued to earn money through her public shows, she got annoyed by her family’s expectations of money from her. She continued sending them money earned through her tricks but also continued complaining about it. Men have been doing it for ages and not complaining. So, it portrayed her as a selfish woman and also proved that it is not easy to become a man.
In the Movie, Shakuntala falls in love again in London and the Spanish man Javier refuses to marry her. He says, “you do not need me”. Shakuntala Devi says love is not enough for you. Then she roamed freely around the world. This shows where chauvinism can take one. You may get economic freedom, but not psychological peace. The movie keeps on going to the past then coming to present, making it more confusing for the audience to understand.
Her economic independence helps her make money, and now she can buy a house wherever she wants. She marries an IAS officer Paritosh played by Jishu Sengupta and when she became the mother of a daughter, refers to her as “my baby”. When Paritosh objects, saying “she is our baby”, she responds “तीन इंच का स्टिचेस मुझे लागे”, how can she be your baby (I have got stitches three inches long, how can she be your baby?). This line Vidya repeated many times in the movie. I laughed at this because she showed her abdomen to show her stitches to her son-in-law played by Amit Sadh. I really wanted to ask who gives birth from the abdomen? I have stitches too but on my lower stomach, the uterus not stomach.
The movie continues with Shakuntala leaving her daughter to resume work and the husband is fine with it. But then the control freak feminist comes back when she hears that the word the daughter first spoke was ‘Baba’ (father). She wants her husband to be with her daughter. This becomes a big argument and then comes the very famous feminist line, ”you all men are same”. I heard this same line in the Netflix movie Bulbul, too.
Eventually, she divorces her husband and takes away their daughter. The father and daughter alienation is the saddest part of the movie. The daughter misses her father too much and the father is obviously in pain, too. Shakuntala Devi sends her daughter to a boarding school and in one scene she points out to the skirts of girls, “ज्यादा बड़ा नहीं हैं? छोटी होनी चाहिए” (skirts are too long, should be shorter).
I didn’t really understand why a Mathematics prodigy (or should I say trickster?) was projected to be a male hater and a vulgar woman who wanted to show skin. A man commenting like this about girls’ skirts would have been branded as a paedophile. If feminists were thinking that they could impart vulgarism in the young minds to make revealing clothes as the sign of empowerment and a trait of a prodigy, then it is a danger sign. Children who want to idolize Shakuntala Devi will learn that showing skin and being a male hater will make them a Mathematics prodigy. You can easily understand how that will degrade our society.
Shakuntala’s daughter Anupama is shown to be upset with her mother, as Anupama is separated from her father. To alienate the child further, Shakuntala Devi hides letters for Paritosh from her daughter and never posts those. She even calls her husband ‘homosexual’.
Anupama gets super upset about it. In a way, the movie Shakuntala Devi shows Shakuntala Devi as a child abuser well. She meted out cruelty not only to her husband by calling him a homosexual openly, but also by calling it out to their daughter, which led to tremendous psychological stress in that little mind.
I came to know that Shakuntala Devi wrote a book called “The world of homosexuals” because her husband was a homosexual. When Anupama decided to get married, Shakuntala asks her how her ambition could be to marry one man and how she could settle with one man in one city? Shakuntala Devi even asks her daughter to divorce her husband and come back to her. This clearly shows those control-freak mothers-in-law that many husbands are battling today and are struggling to keep their families in shape. Shakuntala Devi is portrayed as such a control freak woman that she seals her daughter’s properties so that she can bring her to London from Bangalore.
There is very little personal information available on Shakuntala Devi on a public forum. We only know that she was a gifted lady from India. She did some public shows of Mathematical tricks and even defeated computers. This movie is not about the Shakuntala Devi we know since childhood, this is about a feminist Shakunatala Devi who wanted to win everything, all the time, at any cost. She controlled everyone’s life so that she could win.
Vidya Balan is nothing special in this movie, she was the same in Mission Mangal, Tumhari Sulu. Male characters are deliberately shown weak and timid as filmmakers wanted to present Shakuntala Devi as a powerful lady. And as we know Feminism is all about celebrating women at the cost of men.
Towards the end, we see a feminist trying hard to make the world believe that she is the best mother. The movie makes fun of our grandmothers and mothers who ran the house and brought up children. Because the movie conveys that Shakuntala was not like usual women who sacrifice their lives for homes and children. Her selfishness is shown as her power, she was living her life on her own terms. The movie does not show how the human brain was faster than computers. Was it an inborn skill? If it was inborn then what is so special because she herself said in the movie that ”I can do it but cannot explain how”.
Normally when a biopic is made posthumously, the good and humane traits of the person are highlighted. However, we see that in the movie Shakunta Devi – Human Computer, streaming on Amazon Prime, showed the negative and vile characters of a woman who might be a trickster but can’t be called a prodigy. To show Shakuntala Devi as a feminist icon, the makers of the movie has made her extremely selfish, male hater and sometimes vulgar. Her pedophilic comment on young girls’ skirts surely shows the filmmakers in a bad light. By watching this movie the existing fans of Shakuntala Devi will lose their respect for her. Even an illiterate woman who could raise great kids can be a better feminist icon than an all empowered self-centred Shakuntala Devi.
If you want to present Shakuntala Devi to your daughter as an icon, as someone to follow, how will you do that? Do you want your daughter to learn her selfishness; her cruelty towards not only her father and husband but also her own daughter; do you want to teach your daughter to shoot people when they reject something? Shakuntala Devi was not even shown as a human, how can she be a ‘human’ computer.
She is not someone to be followed. Not someone whose example can be given to little girls because then they will learn a lot of bad traits of human character. I did not understand why Shakuntala Devi in the movie was so angry with men. Her father supported her, all men around the world applauded her, then what exactly was she expecting? The movie is usual feminist confusion, the director Anu Menon and the actor Vidya Balan both being feminists are totally confused about how to depict a Mathematician and an Astrologer. Locations, beautiful sarees are the only saviours, rest all are disappointments.
– By Jyoti Tiwari
*For other movie reviews click – here
If you like articles on this site, please like and share and follow this blog to get fresh articles delivered directly to your inbox.