Feminist lessons by the math genius - Shakuntala Devi

If you’re from Karnataka, especially Bangalore, you cannot have not heard Shakuntala Devi’s name. Widely known as the ‘Human Computer’, she was often in news for her genius appetite for numbers. And that’s all I knew about her for so long. What the Vidya Balan starrer (with the title same as the genius’s name) has revealed to me is that Shakuntala Devi was a fierce feminist, that too in a period when women didn’t have voices or for that matter even choices. In a world full of patriarchal men, she was a pataakha who lived on her terms! And we owe her for creating a rich feminist history in India!


Despite revealing all the mind boggling life facts about Shakuntala Devi, sadly, in my opinion, the film looks at Shakuntala from a patriarchal lens. It does exactly what we do to women in our society - judging them based on their capabilities as working women v/s mothers. Somehow all along the movie, as an audience, it feels like I am expected to see which one outweighs the other - her desire to conquer the world or her wish to win her daughter’s heart. My question is - Why does it have to be either? Why not both? When will we outgrow the either-or problem?


The film does give a disclaimer that the story is from Devi’s daughter’s eyes and [spoiler alert!!] ends with how the daughter failed to see her mother as a woman. But I wish we had less of that and more of what made her a feminist. We see Devi responding with wit and grace to men who make shady remarks but these instances soon get pushed to the periphery and her motherhood takes centre stage. In an attempt to humanize the genius, I wonder if the film played down her feminist fiesta a bit too much! Nonetheless, during the course of the movie, there are several points when Shakuntala Devi takes control of her power and slays it with confidence! Here are nine such lessons that we must keep going back to on bad days to reclaim the badass in us!!


1. Break those barriers, smash those stereotypes!

“Toh fir mein badi hoke aurat hi banungi!” (I will grow up to be a big woman someday)


2. You are beyond the feminine roles you play in your daily life.

“Mein sirf ma nahi hun. Mein ab bhi mein hoon.” (I’m not just a mother. I’m still me.)


3. A well-read woman is considered a threat to patriarchy. Don’t stop from being you.

“Ek ladki jo apni mann ki sunnti hai aur dil khol ke hasti hai, mardo k liye usse zyada daraavna kya ho sakta hai?” (Is there anything scarier to men than a woman who lives on her own accord and laughs her heart out?


4. Equality cannot be achieved until you challenge the status quo.

“Agar tum world famous mathematician hote aur tumhe duniya bhar mein shows karne hote toh tum kya, poori duniya mujhse yahi expect kar rahi hoti ki mein apni boriya bistar baand ke tumhare saath chalu!” (If you were a world famous mathematician and were to tour the world to perform on different stages, wouldn’t you, along with the entire world, expect me to tag along?)


5. Be you and surprise the world!

Javier: “What do you love about being on stage?”

Devi: “People’s face when they see a girl in chotis (plaits) doing math!”


6. Look for a partner who complements you rather than seeks to complete you.

“Why do men always want women to need them?”


7. Why should men have all the fun!

Paritosh: “Ek jagah tik nahi sakti jo! Duniya jeetne chali ho…aur…”

Devi: “Aur ek ma yeh sab nahi kar sakti?”

(Paritosh: “You can’t stick to one place. You wish to conquer the world…and…”

Devi: “…and a mother can’t do all of that?”)


8. Question those cliche reactions!

“Kya ma banne k baad auraton ka dimag band ho jaata hai?”

(“Does a woman’s brain stop working once she becomes a mother?”)


9. Nope, never settle!!

Jab amazing ho sakti hun toh normal kyu banu?

(“Why be normal when I can be amazing?”)


Which one is your favorite? Do share your thoughts about the movie in the comments section below.



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