A day prior to the screening of The Man Who Knew Infinity, director Matt Brown is a very excited man, and for good reason too. The film is the opening film of the 46th International Film Festival of India. Based on the book by Robert Kanigel, the story has an Indian connection – mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan and his collaboration with his English counterpart G H Hardy. Brown spoke to NT BUZZ about how the film, which took ten years in the making, eventually came out.
Q: Srinivasa Ramanujan is revered in India, but only in academic circles. How did you come across his fascinating story?
You are right; it was a bit surprising how people don’t know much about him. I was drawn to the story after reading Kanigel’s book and the friendship between Hardy and Ramanujan fascinated me. They were from very diverse backgrounds, Hardy was an atheist working at Cambridge and academically he was the elite among elites. Ramanujan on the other hand was deeply religious and yet they had this incredible friendship where Hardy mentored Ramanujan.
Q: It is a film about two Mathematicians. How difficult was it to write the screenplay based on the book?
It is not easy to write a biopic although this is not strictly a biopic. When it comes to such stories I try to narrow it down to the most interesting parts of their lives. There is no point in telling a story from childhood to death. Ramanujan had such a short life. So in the film I focused on the part where he left his home in Chennai and came to Trinity where he lived for five years. It is not easy to condense such an incredible story into 100 minutes, but we’ve tried.
Q: You had two generations of actors in the form of Dev Patel and Oscar award winning actor Jeremy Irons (Reversal of Fortune). How did the two blend?
The relation between the two is more like that of father-son or that of a mentor and student, so they fitted perfectly. Jeremy Irons read the script and he loved the character of Hardy. There is one famous picture of Hardy sitting on a chair in a particular fashion. When we were doing the preparation with the costume department Jeremy called me and sat in the same pose and asked, “What do you, think?” He looked so incredibly alike that I couldn’t tell the difference. Dev on the other hand came on board about three or four years later when we were working. He is a very intuitive actor and that is what I like about him.
Q: You also managed to get Stephen Fry on board (who had delved into his own project on Ramanujan).
I knew Stephen had his project so I thought I’ll ask if he would be a part of this film and he generously agreed. He flew down to Chennai for a weekend of shooting and he is the first British character you see on screen.
Q: Did you have to study and understand Mathematics, as to what Hardy and Ramanujan did, to make the film?
Fortunately, no! But I did understand the essence of what they did thanks to Kanigel’s book and I had some experts with me to work on the project. They painstakingly went through all of Ramanujan’s notes to make it as authentic as possible.