The Man Who Knew
by Tony Medley
Runtime 108 minutes
OK for children.
was a legendary mathematician who lived 1887-1920. This film, in which
he is played by Dev Patel (known mostly for the Exotic Marigold Hotel
and Slumdog Millionaire movies), telegraphs that it makes up a
lot of facts by stating that it is “based on” a true story. It gets the
basic story from the book of the same name by Robert Kanigel, who spent
substantial time with Ramanujan’s widow, who was 90 years old at the
time (Ramanujan married her when he was 22 and she was 10 [some say 9]).
But, clearly, it has been “Hollywooded” up. Ramanujan is a clerk in
Mardras, who, Einstein-like, writes down his theorem in notebooks. He
gets a reputation in India and eventually sends his notebooks to several
mathematicians in England. Most ignore him but one, G.H. Hardy,
recognizes his genius and urges him to come to England.
Ramanujan was really
a savant, a person who perceived mathematics intuitively while Hardy was
a realist, who demanded proofs, which is the basis of the movie.
Ramanujan writes down all his theorems in notebooks but Hardy demands
that they be accompanied by proofs.
The dichotomy isn’t
just between a purely scientific mind and a genius, but also
personalities and beliefs. Hardy was an atheist while Ramanujan was a
devoutly religious Brahmin, believing that all his inspirations came
from his family goddess, Mahalakshmi of Namakkal (I don’t’ recall
anything about this source of his inspirations being in the movie).
The movie has Hardy
and Ramanujan arguing about proofs for theorems about things like
infinity and partitions, concepts that are not explained in the movie.
And for good reason; nobody would understand it. For example, Ramanujan
is credited with discovering that congruences in the number of
partitions exist for arguments that are integers ending in 4 and 9.
filmmakers don’t go into this. They just show a few formulas that look
like Greek to the normal person and don’t try to explain the concepts
that Hardy was trying to get Ramanujan to provide proofs for, except to
mention the words “infinity” and “partitions.” At least now when you see
the movie you’ll have some idea that partitions are something you’re
never going to have to worry about.
I’m not sure about
how accurate the scenes of the discrimination the film shows Ramanujan
facing at Trinity are, but I am sure that they fudged on the age
difference between Ramanujan and Hardy. The film shows Hardy as being
old enough to be Ramanujan’s grandfather, but, in fact, Hardy was only
10 years older than Ramanujan, so he would have only been 37 when
Ramanujan came to Trinity at age 27.
The movie also brings
Hollywood to the story by showing Ramanujan and his wife, Janaki (Devika
Bhise) as an attractive young couple madly in romantic love. However,
when Ramanujan left for England at age 27, she was only a child of 14 or
15. Bhise is a gorgeous, fully matured woman of 23. The romantic love
between them portrayed in the movie seems far-fetched.
But the basis of the
movie is fact. Ramanujan was a one-of-a-kind, groundbreaking
mathematician who might never have achieved what he did but for Hardy.
This is the kind of movie-making that I like to see.
It’s educational; there’s not even a smidgen of CGI or special effects;
and it’s interesting. Too bad they felt they had to put Hollywood twists
into a story that would have been better told had they stuck with what