Director Anu Menon hasn’t been actually keen on biopics. And but, her subsequent is without doubt one of the most anticipated biopics of the 12 months. Based mostly on the lifetime of mathematician Shakuntala Devi, the movie of the identical title that releases on Amazon Prime Video, seems on the journey of the lady by the prism of a mother-daughter relationship. “All I knew was I needed to make a movie a few lady and maths,” says Menon, an engineering graduate who went on to work within the promoting trade and eventually studied movies on the London Movie Faculty.
“I take heed to individuals and I’m prepared to simply accept good concepts. I simply assume in my journey I’ve realised that I’ve to be true to what I take up. I’ve to be true to the movie and what I make, simply to focus on the reality of the movie I’ve determined to make,” she says.
Having made a debut with London, Paris, New York (2012) and switching to the indie movie Ready (2015) after which directing episodes of the season certainly one of 4 Extra Shorts Please!, Menon’s decisions have been disparate. It usually makes individuals curious. However she has learnt over time that individuals usually need to field you right into a class. “Due to this fact, I’m wondering if I’m too indie, or too mainstream, or this or that. However I believe I’m all of that.” She loves French cinema as a lot because the Bollywood movies. “All of that’s there in my movies—some extra in some, and a bit much less in others. I’ve began having fun with my journey now with a little bit of a physique of labor. I’ve additionally, on the best way, learnt lots from the individuals I work with. Like Vidya is somebody who would take up one thing, give all the pieces her 100 per cent and transfer on. There is no such thing as a wanting again. That’s what we learnt from Shakuntala Devi as effectively,” says Menon, who’s totally having fun with herself rather more as a director.
Working from London helps her be goal and circumvent the common chatter in Bollywood. “Within the earlier days, it was a bit extra angsty and a bit extra unsure. Now, I believe I don’t need to show myself to anyone.”
She talks to THE WEEK in regards to the course of that went into making Shakuntala Devi and why she desires everybody to name their moms after watching the movie.
Q/Vidya Balan mentioned that that is the longest span of time she has lined as a personality. For you, as a author and director, how straightforward was it to get right into a journey so lengthy?
Yeah. From the time she was 20 to 60-something. We spent a lot time with Anupama Banerji (Shakuntala Devi’s daughter) that we obtained an intimate peep into all the pieces. After all, we additionally did all of the factual analysis—the milestones, the interviews and so on. We matched that with what Anupama supplied us as a result of she had the wealth of pictures, all her reminiscences, the anecdotes over time. We had a lot data that we needed to determine what really goes into the movie. You get a way that it was a life effectively lived. What an incredible journey to have—performing for the reason that age of 5 and go on until 83—and reside life to the fullest. It doesn’t go solely from her start, however it covers the important thing levels of her life.
Q/You may have been an engineering pupil. Do you’ve gotten recollections of your first introduction with Shakuntala Devi, possibly by certainly one of her books?
I’ve by no means learn her books. However I can’t even bear in mind once I…(trails off). I simply realize it. It’s like a kind of outdated Hindi songs, which you surprise about how you recognize it. I don’t bear in mind following her work, or an incident that will have launched me to her. However lots of people of my era I do know have met her. She went to varsities within the 80s. She hadn’t come to mine and I hadn’t met her. However once I needed to make a movie a few lady in maths, the very first thing that got here to thoughts was Shakuntala Devi. I believe it was future. Then I met Anupama Banerji and issues simply got here collectively. However one factor I bear in mind is the commercial of her astrology together with her brief hair. I could not bear in mind something extra of noticing her, however I’ve clearly greater than made up (laughs).
Q/What was the draw to make a movie on a lady into arithmetic?
As you talked about, I’ve a science background. That was one. However my daughter, when she was eight or so, mentioned, ‘women love English, boys love maths’. I used to be like I can’t consider it, one whole era [has passed] and youngsters are nonetheless saying that. It’s as a result of individuals don’t see sufficient optimistic position fashions on display, ladies doing science, it’s all the time like a masculine area. I thought of it lots. I additionally needed to make it aspirational as a result of we count on maths to be boring, and crucial factor about Shakuntala Devi was to make maths enjoyable. The story, in flip, grew to become a few lady who has loved maths and had such an incredible life. It’s far more inspiring than displaying a person getting a Nobel prize. She made maths relatable, enjoyable, and joyful. To me, all of that is essential. I don’t actually know why we’re afraid of maths. I needed to seize all of that. After I began out, I didn’t know that she was so gregarious, flamboyant and a lot enjoyable. However now I can put issues collectively. I additionally hold telling my daughter that TikTok will not be going to save lots of you, however you want maths in life. I believe we have to demystify maths and science. And I really feel very strongly about it.
Q/You communicate of gender biases that come into play when one is selecting the topic of his/her research. Did you have a look at the topic of the movie from any form of gender lens?
I didn’t. After I need to make a movie, ladies are simply ladies for me. I don’t need to have a look at it from a patriarchal lens. Really, I really feel that does extra disservice. We should always inform ladies’s tales as simply tales. By saying or qualifying it as a lady’s story, it feels as if it was undeserving sufficient if she wasn’t a lady. This lady’s story continues to be superb even when she wasn’t a lady. The alternatives she made, made her the Shakuntala Devi we all know. She would nonetheless have been a mathematician. Nevertheless, as a result of she had that inherent equality that she strived for is a superb lesson for girls as we speak. We’re continually questioning ourselves if ‘as a lady ought to I do that or that’. She didn’t have any of the restrictions. In being true to her story, I believe the movie turns into a feminist movie.
Q/And you then additionally had a women-led group (cinematographer: Keiko Nakahara, editor: Antara Lahiri, screenplay: Menon and Nayanika Mahtani, dialogues: Ishika Moitra). Did it simply occur or was it intentional?
It was simply coincidental. We simply selected the perfect individuals for the job. And slowly, we realised we’re too many ladies. I believe it could even be as a result of ladies responded extra strongly to the fabric. Once you rent HODs, the feminine HODs got here ahead with much more ardour, like Keiko. She got here to us with an entire temper board and shared so many extra concepts the second she got here. I felt like, ‘oh yeah, you completely get my movie’. Our producer, nonetheless, is a person—Vikram Malhotra—who made all of it occur.
Q/Between you and Nayanika, what was the method of scripting the story?
We used to fulfill Anupama Banerji and her husband Ajay repeatedly for over three years. We simply stored placing issues collectively. It was like a author’s room, like a number of writers working collectively. We put collectively the issues and themes that excited us. We wrote the preliminary screenplay after which Ishita got here onboard. She was, in fact, doing the dialogues, however she additionally had her personal concepts. The pool simply stored getting greater and larger. When Vidya got here on board, she additionally had a number of inputs. It has so many sides to it that it has a number of issues from lots of people. After I see the movie, I see all these individuals bringing of their nuggets, regardless that the fundamental digging was finished by us. Additionally, Nayanika is an writer; she is from IIM-Bangalore and in addition enjoys maths. Numerous the important thing maths analysis and the deep evaluation have been her speciality and contribution.
Q/You may have been saying that had Vidya not come on board, possibly the movie wouldn’t have been made. Why was she so essential for the challenge?
I actually don’t know who else can play Shakuntala Devi. We went to her and she or he has sort of been on the journey from the start. However we might say ‘what if she alters her thoughts?’ We used to wish that it would not occur. Lots of people used to ask me, ‘if not Vidya, who?’, I didn’t have a solution. We additionally needed to make a movie for the theatres. So, we needed an actor who individuals would come and watch. By the point I had met Vidya and we began on this journey, I knew she was my Shakuntala. Their personalities are so comparable—the sort of power and confidence Vidya has, she is witty and humorous, and she will be able to carry it off. That multifacetedness that she has, after some extent I used to name her Shakuntala. They grew to become one and the identical for me. It’s so humorous that once I was writing the script, in my creativeness, I all the time noticed Vidya and never the true Shakuntala, which is a bit unhappy (laughs). I believe it is the way you begin it.
Q/At what stage of scripting did you contact Vidya?
I didn’t need to write a script earlier than I spoke to Vidya. I needed to know what she felt about our take. We have been enjoying it as a mother-daughter story. We have been going and telling an actor to play a mom to a 20-something lady. There was that. I met her to start with of 2018. By then we had finished a number of analysis, we had all the data. We knew the story we have been going to inform, although we hadn’t written the script. She actually preferred the take and preferred that we weren’t making some form of a puff piece. It wasn’t additionally simply an ode to Shakuntala Devi. We have been going into darker areas, able to make it a bit actual. Writing the script in itself was a course of—how do you inform the story of a lady who lived the best way Shakuntala lived, in two hours. It took us an excellent eight to 9 months to write down the script.
Q/What was the preliminary assembly with Anupama Banerji like?
After we first met her, her mum had handed away three years again. It was all fairly uncooked for her. I believe she was nonetheless coping with it. By some means, she trusted Nayanika and me and we grew to become mates. She stored speaking with out too many filters. After which I believe it grew to become a little bit of a catharsis for her to go over this life she had led with this superb lady and who’s now absent in her life. She was very truthful and trustworthy. She mentioned ‘you guys determine which facet to placed on display and which isn’t value it’. It’s overwhelming, however it is usually an enormous duty when any individual has trusted you with the darker points of their lives, their little feelings, insecurities and sorrows. It’s about how you utilize it with out being manipulative or sensationalising it whereas being true to the journey. Each time I had these emotions about not making it too filmy. I needed to be truthful. Anyway, there was sufficient drama and battle in it. However equally, you don’t need them to return throughout as terrible individuals. You need to be true to their experiences with out passing your judgement. After I confirmed the movie to them final week, I used to be very nervous. When she advised me that now we have obtained the essence of her mom and now we have been delicate in our storytelling, I felt excellent.
Q/One of the crucial advanced issues in Shakuntala Devi’s story is her tryst with homosexuality when her husband got here out as homosexual. It’s a delicate matter. How did you, as a storyteller, go about it?
That she wrote a e-book on homosexuality in itself may be very progressive. She wrote it as a result of she felt strongly about it. The way it impacted her personally, I might simply ask you to attend and watch the movie as a result of within the movie now we have lined what precisely it was.
Q/You additionally focus lots on the mother-daughter relationship, particularly how Anupama needed her mom to be only a mom. Girls usually really feel responsible about going past social boundaries. How tough was it so that you can cowl that half on this story?
We prefer to put everyone in a field. If one is a genius, she has to behave in a specific means. For those who grow to be a maths genius, you must be a sombre particular person. In case you are a mom, you must put your kids earlier than you, as a result of that’s the norm. However she checked out love in a really completely different means. We consider that moms need to be sacrificing, moms have to contemplate themselves final, be unselfish, be a goddess who would eat solely after she has fed everybody else. That’s what now we have seen. We’re revered if we’re selfless. For Shakuntala, her tackle motherhood was completely completely different. That doesn’t imply her love was any much less. And a number of moms really feel that means as a result of society has created an thought about moms. That’s one thing she grappled with as a result of that’s what society was telling her—when she went to highschool, or different instances. However she all the time felt she was a fantastic mom. After this, I hope all of us additionally consider our personal moms. That’s certainly one of my motives that all of us name up our mums after watching the movie. That will actually make me joyful.