Varsha Dasgupta depicts Shakuntala Devi’s life of maths in Kathak matras

Varsha Dasgupta depicting Shakuntala Devi in 'One With The Numbers'

Kathak dancer Varsha Dasgupta has created a dance film called ‘One With The Numbers – Shakuntala Devi’, an original commission as part of the Epic Women Series by Anita Ratnam for In the film, Varsha depicts mathematician and astrologer Shakuntala Devi, who was known as a prodigy and is perhaps one of the most famous names associated with mathematics in the country. 

Varsha has learnt Kathak from gurus Abhimanyu Lal and Vidha Lal, and continues to train under Guru Abhimanyu Lal. For this production, Varsha did the lyrics, concept, choreography and video editing herself. Some of the poetry was also written by Abhimanyu Lal. For this production, Varsha was mentored by Madhu Natraj. Stills and video were by Siddharth Saurabh, costumes by Sandhya Raman, lights by Nitin Jain, music composed and recorded by Amjad Chowdhury and Arshad Ali, graphics by Abhinav Priyadarshi and location courtesy Bhavini Mishra.

In the first section, Varsha showed Shakuntala Devi as a young girl who is fascinated by numbers. The numbers keep swarming around her. She is awakened to her talent by her father, who asks her to guess the probability of getting a queen from a pack of 52 cards. She guessed it correctly to the last decimal. Varsha, as a young Shakuntala in an orange costume, performs a paran to show the flipping of the cards. In different frames, she is shown as confident thinker. In a dark green costume, she is shown as young, confident woman, with Varsha performing a tihai to show the play with numbers in numerology. She is not Kalidasa’s Shakuntala but the one who sees numbers around her. 

The several books she has written on numerology flash back and forth. Varsha used a red cloth in her hand as a prop and moved it to draw mathematical symbols. She moved among them, doing tukdas and parans. 

As a young author, she wrote a book about homosexuals since she was married to a man who was a homosexual and could sympathize with him. In her time, homosexuals were not considered a part of mainstream society. She urged tolerance and acceptance for them.

In the final piece, she showed the astrologer in Shakuntala Devi, who realizes that she can apply maths to the movement of the stars and planets to see the future and do good to humanity. Varsha performed to a tarana with footwork and chakkars. She wore a white saree with a red border. The immense confidence of the last few lines is striking when Varsha says ‘me, Shakuntala’.

The piece is biographical, and Varsha was successful in conveying the story through dialogues and bhava. The nritta portions were especially appropriate since Kathak uses a lot of maths and numbers. The use of the prop to make mathematical symbols and dancing among them was quite abstract and innovative. She used a costume change to show the growing up of a woman from girlhood. The videography was good too, showing the numbers floating and the drawing of the mathematical symbols.

As Varsha said, she had given her 100 per cent to the piece. The hard work did show. Varsha’s technique is sound and her choreography was very apt as she juxtaposed mathematics with Kathak, which is a very number-oriented dance form. Her bhava and expressions were good and showed the different moods of Shakuntala Devi in multiple frames. The lighting and the music were suitable and well-executed, and the music in the last section was catchy. The art of filmmaking was combined with the classical arts to make an interesting piece. I just thought the narrative, written and spoken, could have been more forceful. 

Pics: Stills from the video on Varsha's YouTube channel