The Man Who Knew Infinity is an adapted story about a few years in the life of Ramanujan, one of the most influential mathematicians to have ever lived, and his relationship with his mentor, G. H. Hardy, himself an established light in the field. The story traces the latter life of Ramanujan as he seeks to find a way to publish his formulae, how he finds his way to Cambridge, and the bittersweet fulfilment of his ambitions. Dev Patel stars as Ramanujan; I can just imagine how easy this casting choice must have been, not because Patel has the right ethnicity and acting skills to do justice to the role, but because there is simply not one other Indian or Indian-origin actor of the right age and name recognition to consider. This is a pity as a more skilled performance may have lifted this film to beyond mediocrity. It’s not solely Dev Patel’s fault though by any stretch, the film also suffers from inexplicably staccato screenplay and editing, with scenes too short to be properly fleshed out.
Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh on the film, but no one can argue that most biopics, possibly because they’re created by people for all the right reasons, tend to be very good, whereas this movie is just average. It could have served to enlighten the world about the astonishing life of a character that has remained invisible to most people, mostly for racist reasons as Ramanujan checked every stereotype that the western world has with regard to Indians. Instead, John Nash will still continue to remain recognized than Ramajunan.
Speaking of racism, this was portrayed effectively throughout the movie. Ramanujan’s character faces scorn at every turn and Dev Patel is quite convincing in his fear and misery. He deals with it silently and accusingly complains just once to his mentor, reminding Hardy that racism isn’t always overt.
Jeremy Irons is brilliant as Hardy, an idiosyncratic Cambridge luminary, who takes Ramanujan under his wing and works with him to advance Number Theory, a branch of pure Mathematics. The two men have opposing personalities rooted in their outlook to God and faith, with Hardy believing that everything must be proved through rigour and logic and Ramunujan relying on pure intuition, convinced that God is directly speaking to him. The fact that the world of science is based on the former approach is what becomes the source of the conflict between the two men as Hardy remains frustrated that Ramajujan’s potential would never see the light of day without Ramanujan toeing the establishment line, something which borders on heresy for Ramanujan because he refuses to understand how anyone could question the word of God.
The Man Who Knew Infinity is as an accurate rendition of the part of Ramanujan’s life that it’s about. Yes, it could have been written and directed better, but it’s certainly watchable. For those not at all emotionally invested in Ramanujan’s life, it may even border on good. Just like Hardy mentored Ramanujan, one can imagine Jeremy Irons may have mentored Dev Patel, so that they hold the film together and make it worthwhile to sit through.
JWD Ratings: 3.5/5
Contributed by Rabindra for JWD