Ramanujan (Tamil, 2014) – A Compelling Tale of a Genius
Biopic is rare genre in Tamil and very few filmmakers have a continual rendezvous with making films about great men. Director Gnana Rajasekeran is the only film maker in the entire Tamil film industry who is keen in documenting the lives of eminent personalities. This former IAS officer, who began his film debut with ‘Mogamul’(1994) the film adaptation of a Tamil novel of the same name. Later he turned his eyes on biopics. He gave us ‘Bharathi’ in 2000 chronicling the life of the Tamil national poet Subramaniya Bharathi. Later it was ‘Periyar’ in 2007 which unfolded the life and times of E.V.Ramasamy Periyar who spearheaded the Dravidian Political Movement in Tamilnadu, India. Now, again he is back to celebrate the Indian Mathematical Genius Srinivasa Ramanuja with his ‘Ramanujan.
An honest introspection would reveal that the world recognized no genius while alive. Geniuses in any field were mostly beyond their time and Srinivasa Ramanuja (1887-1920) born in a poor orthodox Brahmin family is no exception. As a child prodigy with a magnificent gift for Mathematics, young Ramanuja went school after school to have his education, for the teachers were helpless to quench this genius’ thirst for mathematics.
The film opens with young Ramanuja, addressed lovingly as Ramanja in his family, studying in his third form (Third Grade in school). The teacher never able to answer to his intellectual questions at school, and back at home we see young Ramanja mastering college level Trigonometry so well to assist college pupils with tuitions. The film doesn’t spend much of its screen time with the childhood days and quickly bounces to his later school days.
Ramanuja in his teens is even more addicted to his mathematics spends all his time on it and eventually fails in all other subjects, yet securing constant centums in math alone. The local college wants no genius but an average student who is capacious to pass every subject in the course. These moments reveals the internal turmoil and emotional breakdown of Ramanujan and his inability to adopt him to the world around him. Unable to give away his tryst for mathematics this man no ordinary struggles in a world so ordinary.
The film also records the Tamil Brahmin society shrouded in superstitions and their enclosed cultural milieu. Ramanujan is orphaned with no support from his family members. Kith and kin, for none understood his gift for math. The whole world around this genius wanted to make him ordinary but this couldn’t stop him. With very few eminent scholars in Mathematics department, who help him put in right track and guide him to get in touch with the right men in the world of mathematics.
If not for Prof.G.H.Hardy, a professor from the Cambridge campus, and his colleague Prof. Littlewood had identified this genius from down south India, he and his mathematics would’ve gone as a lost treasure to the world. Next to Ramanujan, at instances more than him it was Prof. Hardy’s character stands out and makes us awe, and bow for his unmatchable love for mathematics. He proves not only a man of intellect but also wins our heart with his humanity, a rarity in intellectual arena. He says often in the film, that though he had not rendered a genuine contribution, he boasts proudly that Ramanujan and his mathematics as his best discovery for the world of mathematics.
The film throughout, spends not much time in thrusting the viewer with an array of hard core mathematical explanations but assists him to take on an inward journey into the world of the introvert, fragile personality of Ramanuja and his struggle to win over his cultural obstacles and emotional hurdles to bring out the genius residing in.
In the second half the film shifts to London. Sailing to London wasn’t easy for him. His traditional belief deprives anyone from the community from crossing sea. To win his family’s consent a team of three representing Prof. Hardy come all the way from London. Interestingly Ramanuja himself remain consumed from the superstition. He seeks the permission of his deity ‘Namagiri Thayaar’, which thankfully he gets.
The London story highlights the lack of adaptability that Ramanuja faces especially his denial of meat. Hailing from a pure vegetarian background he is never ready to consume non-vegetarian even if it’s the only way to keep him healthy in an unfriendly British weather. Torn between his love for his wife Janaki and his dominant mother, he faces the mundane problem of a newly married husband like any other. But nothing could take his mind way from mathematics.
Diagnosed with Tuberculosis Ramanujan’s health wanes and forces him to get back home, leaving Hardy and his research friendly campus. He returns back with the honour of being the first ever Indian to receive FRS (Fellow of Royal Society). But disease spares none and takes him away. The film ends with a poignant moment showing the mathematical genius hailed by the world but not even recognized from his own family, that none opts to attend his funeral. The few who had lit his career life earlier sadly remain the souls to witness his body torched and left to be eaten by fire.
Throughout history geniuses have always struggled with their time for they belonged to the future. The end credits show us the historical facts of Ramanuja’s works. The film though bears the shade of a docu-drama at times is a serious and sincere effort that chooses to introduce the story of a man forgotten by his own people and literally unknown to the rest of the world.
Personally I don’t like to retell the story of the films that I choose to write. With this I deliberately deviate, for the film might not taste commercial success for its pace, which normal movie goers seeks at the first place, and might very well gone from the theatres unsung like the very man the film showcases. This piece writing is a tribute to the man who breathed and lived with mathematics and a mark of respect to the team that worked to make this film.
This film is a must watch for who wish to have a date with a genius and celebrate him.