Interview: Shakuntala Devi’s Daughter On How Her Mother Defeated Gender Stereotypes
Shakuntala Devi, starring Vidya Balan in and as the “human computer”, has released today on Amazon Prime. SheThePeople had the opportunity of speaking to Shakuntala Devi’s daughter Anupama Banerji, who was known to have a contentious relationship with her mother; director Anu Menon called her Devi’s “Achilles’ heel” in her interview with us. This complex mother-daughter relationship has been portrayed in the film, with Sanya Malhotra essaying Anupama’s role.
Here, we discuss the life and times of Banerji’s mother, the gender stereotypes she had to battle to become the world-renowned mathematician that she was, and the need for empowering women today.
Watch the exclusive interview here:
Watching Her Mother Come Alive On-Screen Was Surreal For Her
Banerji, who is currently based in London with her husband and kids, says that watching her mother come alive on screen was a “beautiful experience.” She says it was “absolutely surreal,” not just to see her “come alive on screen, but come alive beautifully and gracefully and correctly. I’m just so happy with what has come out of it.”
Director Anu Menon mentioned in her interview that she had met up with Banerji in London for coffee to gather a rounded picture about her mother’s life – a session she said had lasted almost six hours.
There, she, and Sunaina, her co-writer, began picking up on details of Devi’s personality from real-life anecdotes. Menon said, “When she (Banerji) started talking, we started understanding multiple aspects of this amazing woman (Devi), and what will resonate with the audience today.”
“She Was Far, Far Ahead Of Her Times”
Shakuntala Devi was not cut from ordinary cloth. She was a woman with a mind of her own, passions she had the courage to follow, and motivation to overstep all the stereotypes society had set out for women at the time. Being a single mother to Banerji and a divorced woman, the chatter around her back then must have been loud, owing to society’s obsession with labels. Banerji says that the world then was not prepared for a woman as forward as her mother.
She explains, “To understand this, one must understand that during those times – we’re talking about the 1970s – she was far, far ahead of her times. She was a very progressive woman, and there was bound to be banter because they weren’t prepared for this – for a woman who was so ahead. She never looked back, it was always about moving ahead, doing new things and not only in India, but travelling worldwide, achieving whatever she could. There were no boundaries. She was divorced, she was a single mother. But she was living life to the fullest.”
Menon maintains that Devi did not care for society’s labels, and people’s opinions were rather irrelevant to her. “The only person who mattered in her life was Anupama,” she says. “She was her Achilles’ heel – the one thing that could break her heart or make her the happiest woman.”
“Don’t Look Back, Like Mummy Always Believed”
On the stigmas and stereotypes that are imposed on women today, Banerji, with references to her mother’s grit and life, talks about how we must forego these “unnecessary stereotypes.” She especially emphasises on the need for educating young girls about it, so they don’t fall into the trap of society’s labels.
She says, “What we need to tell them is that just go into the world and achieve whatever you want to do. Don’t be bogged down by comments, people’s opinions, do the right thing, and do what your heart says. Live life to the fullest. Don’t judge people, don’t let them judge you.”
“Be positive. It’s fine if you tried something and it didn’t work. You’re not here to prove anything to anyone. Be yourself. Chase your dreams. Just move ahead, and don’t look back, like Mummy always believed.”
Tanvi Akhauri is an intern with SheThePeople.TV.