Friday, April 29, 2016


Learn About Ramanujan, But Fall In Love With Jeremy Irons.

3 stars

Mini Review:

Srinivas Ramanujan was a mathematical genius who saw the numbers in a perpetual celestial dance. But this movie shows that men who acknowledge and polish such genius without jealousy are far greater. 

Main Review:

Bertrand Russell is famous for having said, 'I will not die for my beliefs because they might be wrong.' When you read about Ramanujan who was so confident of his theorems and ideas you want to tell him that These theorems are useless unless accompanied by proofs.

You'll wonder why after so many years we are watching a movie about this luminescent mathematician, and then come away with a deep satisfaction of having seen the magical connect of a diamond to his cutter, of Rodin to his sculpture, of Beethoven to his symphonies. We realise that this film is as much about Hardy as it is about Ramanujan. This is not a biopic in so many words, but the tale of love of two men who had the same mistress: mathematics.

The movie does not show how Indian mathematicians encouraged the genius that was Ramanujan and helped him out monetarily as well as with encouragement to pursue the subject. There are many books and online references to show how Ramanujan worked out mathematical theorems in his head. 

Jeremy Irons plays Professor G.H. Hardy who tells Ramanujan (played by Dev Patel exactly what the editor of a math journal MT Narayana Iyengar had said: 'Ramanujan's methods were so terse and novel and his presentations so lacking in clearness and precision that the ordinary (mathematical reader), unaccustomed to such intellectual gymnastics, could hardly follow him.'

Professor Hardy attempts to rein in Ramanujan's natural intellectual leaps and challenges him by making Ramanujan work out his theorems and assertions, 'step by step'. Anyone who has had any kind of formal education will remember math teachers insisting in solving problems that way too. And before we begin to smile, at that familiar phrase, we realise that a man who could simply state 120 theorems in two letters to professor Hardy, could hardly understand the reasoning behind the step by step working out of the assertions in order to prove them before publishing them as a paper.

Professor Littlewood (Toby Jones plays the part with a brilliant tongue in cheek performance) who worked with Hardy admitted after watching Ramanujan work, that he could be compared to Euler and Jacobi, 'at least a Jacobi'.

If a movie makes you come back and look up these casual references made to mathematicians (a subject that one has always found daunting and beyond comprehension), then it has achieved something remarkable indeed.

Jeremy Irons plays the role of the tough taskmaster so brilliantly, we begin to care for him as much as we care about Ramanujan. If you dig up pictures of professor Hardy you will se remarkable similarities to the professor in real life. And you will discover also that Hardy and Ramanujan published a paper together that is not easy to comprehend. But you don't have to. The film lures us with so much more than formulae.

We see the connect and we worry for the both of them. This is a new feeling to have as audience. We saw a movie about Stephen Hawking just last year, and despite an award winning performance we did not worry for the characters. Here, we do. We want the two of them to work out the differences in their approach to the subject and create magic. A delightful cameo by Bertrand Russell (Jeremy Northam) offers us many insights to the connect both mathematicians share.

What was really awful about the movie is the melodramatic Indian portions. You are told Ramanujan lived in abject poverty and then we are shown his mother and wife in silks and jewellery. Yes, they make for beautiful viewing, but so untrue to the characters. And before you say 'exotic India' you see a temple elephant! And of course the machinations of the mother-in-law make it all too Bollywood even if true. If you can ignore this portion of the movie, then you will certainly come back home satisfied on the account of Jeremy Irons who is forced to acknowledge that there is God in numbers...

And the movie will affect you in ways you wouldn't even think possible. I found myself looking for a cab with a number 1729 to ride back home. Why? Read up about Ramanujan. Or watch the film.

p.s. The conversations between Bertrand Russell and professor Hardy are delightful, and what I thought was a mere clever dialog of the film is real. Professor Hardy said,' If I could prove by logic that you would die in five minutes, I should be sorry you were going to die, but my sorrow would be very much mitigated by pleasure in the proof.' 

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