April 29, 2016 6:07:38 pm
There are several infinities in The Man Who Knew Infinity. Brown, who also wrote the screenplay, does well to explore. Here is a boy lacking access to even paper opening doors with math formulas scribbled on every surface he can find. Here is an orthodox, poor, Brahmin boy finding himself thousands of miles away in a university mostly open to only hallowed, privileged Englishmen. Here he is in a foreign land with foreign food in the midst of world war and rations, and only infrequent correspondence with his family back home. Here lie infinite possibilities, there stand infinite improbabilities.
In life, in that equation, the first part necessarily doesn’t cancel out the second. But when it does, it sometimes gives us a Srinivas Ramanujan.
Brown tells us that story. Yes, the film largely leaves math alone, and you must go to other sources for the significance of Ramanujan’s original work, dervived free of any formal theorems. Yes, the film exaggerates and romanticises the story between him and the wife (Bhise) left back home — including glossing over the fact that she was a child when married to him — to give us a more palatable and traditional hero. And yes, there are few surprises as the film puts two and two together to give us a four.
However, sometimes you want a film to do just that — not dazzle us with, say, a 22.
Patel as the unsure, hesitant, shy, scared, and very, very young Ramanujan takes clues from Irons’s marvellous detached, tired, ageing, set-in-ways mathematician G H Hardy, to portray the unlikely partnership that led to mathematical breakthroughs. Ramanujan can’t ask for friendship, Hardy can’t provide any, and yet one feels the warmth of their growing proximity as the story progresses. The film is also acutely aware of how difficult it was for two men so disparate, and not just due to their different backgrounds, to come close.
It also dwells nicely on the fact of Ramanujan’s mathematical genius springing from his extreme religiosity, as Hardy holds tightly his atheist beliefs. There is not a mocking comment, even in passing, as the film shows how the faiths that the two hold dear bear upon their work. As Hardy says, “We are merely explorers of infinity, in the pursuit of perfection.” Not unlike the pursuit of god.
Well, as anyone who has sat down with a set of seemily incomprehensible numbers and watched them fall into place will know, it is not unlike a spiritual feeling.
Ultimately, you could say the film is bigger than the sum of its parts. Should Ramanujan agree.
Director: Matt Brown
Cast: Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Toby Jones, Devika Bhise, Arundhati Nag
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.