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Shakuntala Devi Nailed The Connection With A Wider Audience, With Sheer Emotional Storytelling

Posted: August 3, 2020

Most of our movie going audience can’t handle too many complications on screen. As they walk into the theatres, they’re looking for entertainment, rather than intellectual or emotional satisfaction.

After a super hectic week, when I turned on my laptop for some inspiring content, I accidentally came across the newly released film ‘Shakuntala Devi’ on Amazon Prime. The content is so refreshing and inspiring, that I now have at least five fresh blog topics to write about!

There were many aspects of the film that touched me. Starting with the real-life character and her quirky puzzle books, the titles she earned, and her unbeatable world records- Shakuntala Devi has been a pioneer in her field. Any person who aspires to score a decent percentage in the CAT examination or secure an MBA degree in the future can hardly ignore her mind-boggling practice books!

The unapologetic ‘Devi’ has been entering the male domain unhesitatingly and beating even the fastest computers in the world to claim her crown!

But, the depiction of such a genius female character on screen, with her insecurities and dilemmas is fascinating, because it can set up a benchmark for the aspiring Indian writers.

As a hardcore feminist film critic, I have always complained about the portrayal of women on Indian screens.

Even as a writer, I wondered, why can’t there be layered characters? Why can’t the female characters be more humane? Why can’t we peep into their brain and reflect upon the complexities?

Characters layered just enough

My seniors have told me that it was always better to remove a few layers of the characters I created, because otherwise the content would be too heavy for the audience. The Indian audience can’t handle too many complications on screen. As they walk into the theatres, most of them are looking for entertainment, rather than intellectual or emotional satisfaction. They want either a role model or a dark evil character whom everyone condemns – in short, flat characters with limited options.

But, there are always two sides of a coin! How can I turn my character into a complete badass without justifying the reason? Maybe a little hint at their background stories might help?

Every time I said this, I was told, ‘that won’t be necessary. You just need to build the drama.’

But what about their internal conflicts and dilemmas? ‘The audience will get confused whether to like or to hate the character, and in the end, they won’t be able to relate with them. It would be best if you created the conflicts or touched upon their external challenges. Forget their mind, focus on the external challenges.’

For a broader audience

I always used to wonder how a film can attract a broader set of audience. ‘Shakuntala Devi’ has very well articulated the way of connecting with a broader audience, with the sheer art of storytelling and emotions. Not to mention, the wider their outreach is, the more capable they are of creating an impact or initiating a change in the mindsets of people.

With this new age Indian content, I feel we are slowly getting there. This is no less than an achievement that the Indian content creators are finally interested in depicting the genius women characters, and a 41-year-old female actress is still capable of driving the narrative with her maximum screen timing, compared to the other young, vibrant actors. Even though she has repeatedly been body shamed and questioned over her appearance, Vidya Balan continues to rule over large-screens and OTT platforms with her effortless performances and quirky characters. This further reaffirms the fact that content is king after all!

In ‘Shakuntala Devi’, the writers and the showrunners have successfully created a balanced character- the badass ‘Devi’ who rules the world; yet there is a vulnerable side of her you can’t ignore, and you can’t help falling in love with!

First published here.

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