The Man Who Knew Infinity (2016)

We Indians have always had a different sort of relation with the divine. As Ramanujan said during his very short lifetime, repeatedly, the divine spoke to him and uttered the formulas. Our culture has such a relation of God, that we consider him as the supreme controller of our fates. It is God who created this universe, and it is God who is the creator of all the mathematical formulas that are there in the world. We, as humans, are mere observers of the reflections of those creations.

In, The Man Who Knew Infinity, director Matthew Brown, explores this concept of relating to the divine in detail. Here, I must say, that I am not very much familiar with the life and works of S. Ramanujan. I haven’t even read the book on which this movie is based. So therefore I cannot comment on the portrayal of Ramanujan’s life. But what I can comment on, is the movie as a whole.

I remember, during my childhood, the first mathematician, I came to know the name of, was Ramanujan. Whatever small bits and pieces of stories I came to know about him, always amazed me. There is this one story, that fascinated me very much. I was sure of it being true, until I watched the film. And that’s why I admitted at the very beginning that I cannot comment on the facts of this movie.

The story I heard, was, and still is an inspiration for me. Due to Ramanujan’s condition and his low income, he was not able to buy paper to do his calculations in. Paper, being a rare and prestigious commodity at that time, was sold not at very cheap rates like today. I had heard, that Ramanujan had four set of ink pots. First he used to do the calculations with the blue ink, then with the green, then with the red and finally the black. I even tried to adopt this, in the days of my middle school, and I must say, my mathematics teacher was not happy.

Though, Ramanujan’s fascination with paper, and the unavailability of it for him, is shown in the movie, but there is no occurrence of this incident with four coloured inks, and therefore, I am forced to conclude this story as a fable, until I can get some more proof.

Director Matt Brown offers a reverential portrait of our protagonist, but struggles to convey the magic of numbers. Although much noise is made about Ramanujan’s revolutionary theories and ideas, we’re provided very little evidence of this. There is repeated talk of prime numbers and partitions, and we watch as crusty professors are bewildered by his ‘intuitive’ deductions. But ask me what I learnt about his achievements, and I’m still blank.

In, The Man Who Knew Infinity, actor Dev Patel, a talented actor indeed, — who got his feature start in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, — has largely specialized in handsome, earnest and well-meaning characters. And in The Man Who Knew Infinity, Matthew Brown’s respectful and, yes, earnest biopic, he does a wonderful job. And so does, Jeremy Irons, as Tom Hardy. The relationship of Hardy and Ramanujan, as described by Hardy himself as “the one romantic incident” of his life, is very well portrayed by the two actors.

I’m going with 3 out of 5 stars for Matthew Brown’s The Man Who Knew Infinity. Ramanujan found the divine in integers. And I hope, watching this movie, you’ll be able to realise the pain and sacrifices Ramanujan went through, for his notebooks to be displayed alongside Sir Isaac Newton’s.