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The book The Man Who Knew Infinity, written by Robert Kanigel, gets an overtly simplified and subdued adaptation by Matthew Brown. It hovers on the sadness and the emotional connect that Ramanujan shares with his wife rather than digging deep into his love for equations and formulae. A passing reference of every positive integer to be his friend and all that comes to him is Godly tries to add more muscle to the skinny narrative. The mentor-mentee relationship between Ramanujan (Dev Patel) and Hardy (Jeremy Irons), and the later friendly overtures are finely carved moments in this biopic.
Though Brown tries to induce drama and novelty in the proceedings, he couldn’t do away with the clichéd portrayal of Ramanujan and his Indian roots – Madras, elephants, temples, rustic milieu and others. More focus shifts to his wife Janaki and how she longs to meet him during his tenure at Trinity, London. The letters go unanswered adding to the intensity of the drama. What adds more meat is Ramanujan’s struggle to find vegetarian food, and he staying all alone during the war and falls victim to indifferences and tuberculosis.
In this biopic, Brown doesn’t give too much importance to Mathematics. He transgresses into other zones to bring in diversity to the characters and flesh out more of them. There’s no deep dive into Ramanujan’s life. However, you can see a fine portrayal of politics and shades of racism at Cambridge.
This is the most challenging role for Dev Patel. He pulls it off quite well with his Indian accent to blend into the British context the film thrives on. You root for his character when Hardy overlooks his family and food habits. The cultural shift that brings down Ramanujan is shown well where he has to stay hungry on many nights. As Hardy is always fascinated with Ramanujan, he barely makes an eye contact in the happy or sad moment. When the latter’s article gets published the former accepts a ‘Thank You’ by raising his umbrella. There are many such moments tied to the film’s structure.
The Man Who Knew Infinity falls in the space of a decent biopic on the Math genius but couldn’t churn out a compelling and engaging drama. There are moments that are few and far between, thus leaving a lot of scope for another director to venture into the same story again. If someone’s making their hands dirty again, they will ensure to make A Beautiful Mind or The Imitation Game out of the life of Srinivasa Ramanujan. That will stay close to formulae but stay away from formulaic screenplay.