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Prime Woman: Why Shakuntala Devi was a woman who wanted it all
18.08.2021 Amrita Dutta
Shakuntala Devi Shakuntala Devi

The day after, on June 26, 1977, the front page of a local newspaper, The Odessa American, splashed a photograph of her on its front page. She is sitting with her back to a blackboard, on which is scrawled a ginormous number, spilling across 10 rows, which a professor at South Methodist University, Dallas, Texas has taken four minutes to scribble. The task is to find the 23rd root of the 201-digit number. For a computer programmed to compute the same, it takes over a minute. Shakuntala Devi does it in 50 seconds.

To the world, she is the “human computer” with a mysterious internal algorithm that takes in giant numbers at a glance and turns them into playthings for her performances. But, as a new biopic that released on Friday on Amazon Video seeks to show, Shakuntala Devi (1929-2013) was greater than the sum of the numbers. “She was a hot-blooded, unapologetic woman who wanted it all,” says Anu Menon, who has directed Shakuntala Devi. “For her, maths was not about sitting in a room and solving problems, but about spreading its joy… She came out of nowhere and travelled the world — [and through her life] she had no boundaries,” says Anupama Banerji, 50, her daughter, who is based in London and who collaborated with Menon on the film.
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