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Shakuntala Devi led a complex but cool life, she dared to challenge patriarchy at every stage. She truly led an ‘amazing’ life instead of a ‘normal’ one!
Shakuntala Devi born in 1929 was a woman way ahead of her times. She effortlessly said and did what she thought was apt. And sometimes that ended up being a shock for those who heard her, but, it was all true.
A female mathematician, a Guinness Book awardee, a highly acclaimed personality, Shakuntala Devi too couldn’t escape the clutches of patriarchy.
The lady whom the entire world vying to hear her had to hear her sister exclaim, “Bada aadmi banegi tu?” (You’d be an accomplished individual? Rather man since that’s how success will be equated in our society) To which, Shakuntala responds, “Aadmi kyun? Mai badi aurat banungi!” (Why man? I’d be a successful woman)
This conversation is a reminder, that no matter what era a woman is born into, she has to be at the beck and call of her male counterparts. And that her achievements barely matter when she’s will be compared to the men. Sad but true!
Anu Menon’s cinematic excellence Shakuntala Devi portrayed by Vidya Balan is an eye opener for women, especially for mothers. Those mothers who feel it is absolutely alright to be normal rather than striving towards being amazing.
Personally, I find this ideology quite fascinating. I say this, because all our lives we are instructed to immerse ourselves in our homes, husbands and our children, thus forgetting who we really are. But here this woman, born decades before independent India could imagine a life where a woman was free to prioritise herself without feeling guilty.
Shakuntala Devi’s struggle is real, it is the story of any woman who is out there to break the glass ceiling.
It’s unfair to expect a woman to quit everything and solely focus on her baby after she becomes a mother since the same doesn’t apply to the father. And it is only fair that he is allowed to do anything he aspires by the virtue of the fact that he’s the bread earner of the family. Or by the virtue of his gender that anyway makes him more privileged.
Her stoical acceptance of her husband’s sexual orientation and the eventual declaration that he is a gay, in one of her book releases shows her brutal honesty. However, her daughter finds it uneasy and unreal a revelation!
Irrespective of everything that make Shakuntala Devi light years ahead of her times, the film reduces her undisputed genius to being an unaccomplished mother!
However Shakuntala Devi will leave an indelible mark on the soul of all women for the ultimate lesson she teaches them. “Why be normal when all you can be is amazing?”
How many times would a woman be trained into such a thought? And how many times should she be expected to give into what the society wants her to do instead of following her heart? How many times are these words spoken by other women? These are some timeless lessons that Shakuntala Devi tries to put forth.
Besides these Shakuntala Devi also upholds another interesting facet of life – trans-generational trauma. The fact that she is unable to forgive her mother’s inaction when her elder sibling passes away takes a magnanimous form as she grows up.
Shakuntala Devi’s father is the epitome of exploitative behavior and yet her mother succumbs to it every time. As a result, she promises to be never like her mother, and instead be the self-dependent and self-made woman that she is.
She is not afraid to voice her thoughts and does not really bother what the world demands from her. However her mother’s warning of what goes around comes around is proven right when Shakuntala Devi’s daughter begins to resent her. She resents Shakuntala Devi for devoting time to her aspirations and not her family.
The concept of trans generational trauma is explained well through the relationships shared between Shakuntala Devi and her parents. And also eventually between her and her daughter.
The way Shakuntala Devi follows her passion is synonymous to her walking a tightrope between her career and motherhood. However she’s not demonised for following her career and living her dreams.
In today’s lingo, Shakuntala Devi led a complex but cool life, she dared to challenge patriarchy at every stage. And this became excessively conspicuous due to the age and time she was born into. She was successful in carving out a niche for herself in the Math community, both India and abroad, an arena mainly dominated by male mathematicians at that time.
Anu Menon’s directorial venture Shakuntala Devi is a pure magic onscreen. It is indeed a joy to see the fascinating life of the protagonist who was named the human computer.
The fact that Shakuntala Devi is a woman centric film and yet not utterly emotional is a thought to reckon with. It leaves us, women, introspecting what the real roles of a woman lies in or is it always safe to follow what is expected out of her!
A version of this was first published here.
Picture credits: Still from the movie Shakuntala Devi
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