Director: Matt Brown
Writer: Matt Brown (screenplay), Matt Brown, Robert Kanigel (biography)
Stars: Jeremy Irons, Dev Patel, Malcolm Sinclair, Raghuvir Joshi
Runtime: 108 min
Genre: Biography, Drama
Released: 29 Apr 2016
Synopsis: In the 1910s, Srinivasa Ramanujan is a man of boundless intelligence that even the abject poverty of his home in Madras, India, cannot crush. Eventually, his stellar intelligence in mathematics and his boundless confidence in both attract the attention of the noted British mathematics professor, G.H. Hardy, who invites him to further develop his computations at Trinity College at Cambridge. Forced to leave his young wife, Janaki, behind, Ramanujan finds himself in a land where both his largely intuitive mathematical theories and his cultural values run headlong into both the stringent academic requirements of his school and mentor and the prejudiced realities of a Britain heading into World War One. Facing this with a family back home determined to keep him from his wife and his own declining health, Ramanujan joins with Hardy in a mutual struggle that would define Ramanujan as one of India’s greatest modern scholars who broke more than one barrier in his worlds.
The story of the life and academic career of the pioneer Indian mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan, and his friendship with his mentor, Professor G.H. Hardy.
Review: He was a dumpy sort of guy, unlike the young star who portrays him in this film, Dev Patel, but that really doesn’t matter, since hardly anyone has a mental picture of Ramanujan – even if they’ve heard of him. It’s a great story and so far untold on screen, of a born maths genius from Madras, who even at the age of 7 was revealing mathematical formulas of some complexity. What matters more than the physical portrayal is the character portrayal and the way his experience defied his circumstances and the social culture of the era.
His determination was sometimes mistaken for ego, and this is well portrayed in Matt Brown’s film, while his transition from life within Indian culture to 1913-1920 Cambridge society is perfunctory, one of the film’s weaker points.
Adapted from Robert Kanigel’s biography, the film begins and ends in Madras, as did Ramanujan’s life. Patel is a brilliant choice, especially playing opposite Jeremy Irons as his mentor at Cambridge, Professor Hardy, a man his total opposite emotionally and spiritually. Where Ramanujan is deeply religious and believes his intuitive and remarkable solutions to mathematical mysteries come direct from his god, Hardy is an atheist. Where Ramanujan is quite an emotional and impulsive character, Hardy is measured, reticent and meticulous. Yet they grow to be the closest of friends either has ever had.
It is in the development of this friendship that the film excels and makes us care for them both, giving the biography depth and texture. We are moved.
We are also moved by the performance of newcomer Devika Bhise as Janaki, Ramanujan’s pretty young wife, who is left behind with his mother when he goes to fulfill his destiny. There are heartbreaking moments when letters between the couple fail to reach their destination, prompting emotional misunderstandings about the relationship. Toby Jones is excellent as another great mathematician at Cambridge, John Littlewood, and Britain’s finest make brief but welcome appearances: Stephen Fry as snooty Sir Francis Spring and Jeremy Northam as the (not yet great) Bertrand Russell.
The various elements of the film – screenplay, direction, music, design, editing, cinematography – are all competent and effective, but it is the central performances that elevate the film to something of lasting value.
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Note: Audio is only in English.