06 September, 2016
A peek into the life of a genius
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler”, is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, though it’s provenance is disputed. But the message it conveys is apt – wonderfully apt in the world of abstract mathematics, which, if it is not simplified, few of us will even understand what it remotely means.
Hence movies like The man who knew Infinity will have to be made accessible ( & dumbed down to make it simple ) & yet capture the essence of the top flight work they have done - is a daunting job. There have been oeuvres like this before – like A Beautiful Mind which is about John Nash – a top notch mathematician. The man who knew Infinity is about Srinivasan Ramanujan - about our own Indian genius of a mathematician & has been told in a straight forward, simple manner, without unnecessarily lionizing the person, more than necessary.
This story starts in Chennai – a lad who is almost lost to the world, in the labyrinthine bureaucracy, as a Clerk in Madras presidency. Fortunately for him he gets mentors who help him and assist him to get in touch with G.H.Hardy in London. Hardy is impressed enough to bring him to London and is his friend , philosopher & mentor. Ramanujan’s genius is impressive in that he has proofs – without the necessary steps. But that confounds Hardy as it does others.
Hardy is played by Jeremy Irons, who has reprised the role with such finesse that he fits the role like a glove. Dev Patel has done a fine job too. Since the film is set in London, one gets a taste of fine English humour. The dialogues sparkle in their understated, subtle English humour - especially the ones between Bertrand Russel ( essayed by Jeremy Northam ) & Hardy. The movie does not lag and one does not get a feeling that it could have been edited out. Mathew Brown has directed the movie & has certainly created one that he can put in his resume with pride.
The poverty from which Ramanujan comes is portrayed with dignity. The Chennai portions are fairly authentic. Ramanujan is a Vaishnavite & there are no gaffes when they show the Deity/ God or what shlokas their family intones or the feel of a Iyengar household… Bollywood needs to learn here – I have seen countless movies where a Vaishnavite sports a Tilak ( Namam ) and keeps uttering Muruga, Muruga ( a clear Shaivite God )! But then Bollywood is not known for authenticity & is known more for their pot boilers - with their staple fare of fights, gory violence, whistle inducing dance sequences & midriff heaving song & dance routines.
Bollywood makes films on Dons, Politicians, business tycoons etc. But we needed an International producer to immortlise Ramanujam or for that matter Gandhiji on screen. Struck me as odd really!
The emotional relationship between Ramanujan & his wife Janaki ( helmed competently by Devika Bhise ) has been handled with aplomb. The electric tension between the mother-in-law/ daughter-in-law duo has been captured well, which speaks well of the director who wants to tell the story from all viewpoints and wants to capture all the nuances in the protagonist’s life.
All in all, it was 135 minutes well spent. The mathematical content has been quite simplified to make it accessible to the audience. Prof.Einstein may not approve; but most of us may not otherwise follow it!
Eminently watchable biopic. Don’t seek thrills from this – it faithfully tells the story of a genius, without drama & unnecessary fluff. If you would like to know him and get a peek into his mind, this movie does a good job. Gets four star billing from me!
Reviewed by Suresh Sadagopan, who was happy to have watched this movie!
Suresh Sadagopan is the founder of Ladder7 Financial Advisories