The Man Who Knew Infinity


THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY, DIRECTED by Matthew Brown and based on Robert Kanigel’s 1991 book of the same name, introduces the life of one of the most influential mathematical figures of all time. The film follows Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) from his time as a young mathematical genius in Madras, where he worked as a common accountant, to far-off England, where he worked with (and often baffled) the top mathematicians of Cambridge. The film explores a clash of cultures which remains familiar to Hindus living in the West today, and shows how, throughout his studies and transformations, Ramanujan maintains his cultural heritage and deep Hindu faith, even in the face of racism and xenophobia.

To this day, S. Ramanujan is a legend in mathematical scholarship. He broke new ground in many abstruse fields, including mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series and continued fractions. While he was criticized during his lifetime for not providing adequate proofs for his theories, almost all of his claims were proven correct posthumously. The Ramanujan Journal, established in 1997 and named in his honor, publishes work in all areas of mathematics influenced by him.

When the as-yet-unknown Ramanujan sent some of his work to professor G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons) in Cambridge, Hardy found it so remarkable he first assumed it was a fraud. Finally convinced otherwise, he invited Ramanujan to Trinity College at Cambridge, the setting for most of the film. There Ramanujan faced racism and a lack of understanding about his strong Hindu faith. After much hardship, and a massive campaign by Hardy, he was made the first Indian fellow of Trinity College. But his story is a tragically short one. Soon after becoming a fellow he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, dying at age 32.

The Man Who Knew Infinity traces the arc of this rich yet fleeting life, emphasizing Ramanujan’s devotion to his faith and showing how he attributed his work to it, even while it was mocked or disrespected within the halls of the college.

Watching the movie, I felt a deep connection with Dev Patel’s masterfully portrayed Ramanujan. I am no mathematical genius—I almost failed calculus—but I responded deeply to the way in which he practiced his faith in an environment where Hinduism was seen as something foreign and inconsequential.

Ramanujan saw Hinduism as an intrinsic part of all that he loved—mathematics, his family, and the very soil on which he walked. His faith was as important to him as air or water. He was a brahmin and one of the first scenes of the movie shows him praying to Namagiri, his household Goddess. The scene is familiar to those who, like myself, grew up in a Hindu household. As a child, I would never practice piano or Bharatanatyam without my murtis of Saraswati and Nataraja. I would gently lay them on my piano bench while I practiced my scales, and then move them above the fireplace before I was ready to dance. My non-Hindu friends did not understand this. “What do these murtis have to do with art?” They asked me. Some of them listened, as did Hardy, Ramanujan’s colleague, but others followed their ignorance to the bitter end. Through it all, I’ve always found strength in my Gods. Regardless of what others thought, I felt they imbued me with a vision as I began my study of arts.

Review by ANNESHA SENGUPTA and read more @



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