Anu Menon says that she would have never made Shakuntala Devi if Vidya Balan didn't act in it
Indie filmmaker Anu Menon, known for making thought-provoking cinema that leaves an indelible mark with a sensitive touch, is ready with her first biopic Shakuntala Devi, based on the life and times of the reputed ‘human computer’ Shakuntala Devi, renowned for her number-crunching abilities. Played by none other than the talented Vidya Balan, the movie is a take on both Devi’s personal and public personas. But with the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown bringing normal life to a complete halt, the makers have decided to release the much-anticipated film digitally on Amazon Prime. We had a short chat with the London-based Menon, who also made the Naseeruddin Shah and Kalki Koechlin starrer, Waiting. Excerpts from the interaction:
What made you pick Shakuntala Devi’s story?
I wanted to make films about successful women in the fields of science, technology and maths, since we don’t see them often on-screen, and Shakuntala Devi and mathematics are almost synonymous. So, I started researching about her. This is my first biopic, and I have told it primarily from the point of view of her daughter, Anupama Banerjee, who too lives in London. Nayanika and I wrote the script that’s a personal, intimate understanding of Shakuntala. The film explores the two very intimate facets of her life — maths and motherhood, both of which gave her the highs and lows, and it remains quite true to her life.
Was Vidya Balan your first choice?
Vidya was the only choice for this film and I went to her even before we started writing the script. Vidya took a long time to say yes, but if she wouldn’t have agreed, I’m sure the film wouldn’t have got made. I couldn’t imagine anyone else as Shakuntala Devi. Vidya plays her from age 20 to 60, and she will just take your breath away.
Due to the lockdown, Shakuntala Devi is getting released on Amazon Prime. Your reaction?
It was one of the most-anticipated releases and I still feel very lucky that ours is one of the few films that will get a chance to reach the audiences in these difficult times, and we are able to tell them a story about an inspiring woman who lived against all odds and chased her dreams. It’s also about a mother-daughter relationship and people can watch it with families, especially when we are missing our families so much now.
Do you think COVID-19 will ruin multiplex culture?
I think theatre is here to stay. When TV and video came, they didn’t replace the radio and when the internet arrived, the theatres still continued. With the advent of the OTT platforms, people are getting more options for entertainment and viewing different kinds of things, but that won’t stop big cinemas from being made. I think there will be certain kind of films made for OTT and others developed for big-screen experiences and some others that will fit on either, and hence, this doomsday prediction is not required. Right now, we are all in a slightly difficult situation, and need to navigate through this to get on to the other side of it.