The much awaited Hollywood movie The Man who knew Infinity, a biopic on India’s mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan made a quiet entry in India on Friday after almost an year.
In 2014, a Tamil movie Ramanujan had attempted to portray the life of the genius but failed to garner much appreciation. However, it was a sincere attempt to capture Ramanujan’s life, his struggles and his success. The period was captured beautifully and authentically, not just in terms of costume and decor, but also the mindset of people.
Well-known author M N Krish has studied the fascinating personality of Ramanujan for years and, through his book The Steradian Trail, captured the essence of Ramanujan. He says that part of the action in his thriller book is set in the childhood home of Ramanujan at Kumbakonam. “This is the very roof under which Ramanujan discovered hundreds of theorems. To the left is the little barred window through which Ramanujan looked out of while he carved out a whole new gateway into the world of numbers, with just a slab of slate and piece of chalk.”
The Hollywood movie is worth watching and Krish recommends it to kids what with the director focusing on the relationship between student Ramanujan and his mentor.
City Express spoke to M N Krish, the author of The Steradian Trail.
The Hollywood movie, was it better than the Tamil version?
I urge everyone to watch it. If you have high-school children, make sure they watch it. If you are a teacher, mentor, or even a manager, see how to bring out the best in others. The canvas of the Tamil movie was broader, but the English movie has a narrower focus. The Tamil version succeeds as a sincere, true-to-life documentary. The English version succeeds as a drama with some license from reality. It was nice to see Bertrand Russel and Calcutta’s own P C Mahalanobis playing cameos.
The portrayal of characters
The Tamil movie got the Tamil period details better, from looks to costumes to ambience to people’s attitudes. I found the English one a bit jarring at times. Ramanujan would never have worn colourful kurtas or vests like that or carried a jhola bag. And the checked lungi in the introductory scene – if that’s what it was – was horrendous; Ramanujan wouldn’t want to be found dead in a ditch wearing something like that. The front of his head too would be shaven clean much of the time. An Iyengar of that era would never keep a Ganesha idol. But India is not the director’s comfort zone. That said, things get thoroughly fascinating once the scene moves to Cambridge.
Have they stayed true to the character of Ramanujan?
They have. The Tamil movie portrays him as a weakling, breaking down frequently. But I think he was actually made of sterner stuff. He was never in doubt about his own gifts though he despaired when the system did not support someone like that. He was quite religious and spiritual. And he also had a quirky sense of humour. All these facets of his personality came through in Matt Brown’s characterization. They didn’t add too much masala there.
What of his life is in focus ?
The soul of the movie is the Hardy-Ramanujan relationship and that is done beautifully and brilliantly. In fact, it is Jeremy Irons as Hardy who steals the show. My 9-year-old son said, 'Hardy is the real genius, appa. He supported Ramanujan when other people did not support him."
Dev Patel’s acting ?
I may be biased by my over-familiarity with Ramanujan, but I had difficulty accepting Dev Patel as Ramanujan. He just had no physical resemblance. At the very least they should have plumped him up with some curd rice and sweet pongal and made him look a little portly like him in the first half.