- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2016

It was one of the most unlikely of friendships: a tenured Cambridge professor taking a promising Indian named Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar under his wing, with the latter’s work becoming a cornerstone of modern mathematics.

“I knew very little of this story before I found Robert Kanigel’s incredible biography, other than the small reference which I vaguely remembered from ‘Good Will Hunting,’” said writer/director Matthew Brown of the new film “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” now out in theaters. “I was astounded as I dug deeper into the story about Ramanujan’s journey that it could actually be true, that this deeply religious Iyengar Brahmin, for whom an equation held no meaning unless it expressed a thought of God, that he would be so brave to break caste and risk everything to go to Trinity at the height of British colonialism, only to be greeted by a man who was an atheist. That was just an incredible human story.”

Ramanujan is played in the film by Dev Patel, perhaps best known for the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire.” Jeremy Irons is G.H. Hardy, the hardened, cynical professor who develops both a fondness for and friendship with the young Ramanujan. No stranger to accolades himself, Mr. Irons won an Oscar for portraying Claus von Bulow in 1990’s “Reversal of Fortune”

Mr. Brown said the chemistry between his two leads was visible right from the beginning.

“I was extremely fortunate to have two actors who were so passionate about the story that they really went the extra distance to make it work under extremely challenging circumstances, as is so often the case in independent film,” the director said. “Dev had said please find an actor who will put some fear into me, and when Jeremy accepted, I think Dev was very excited and nervous, which worked brilliantly” for the character dynamic.

Ramanujan’s pioneering work remains relevant a century after he left behind his Indian home to travel to England. Theorists today still use his research when discussing black holes and string theory.

“It is pretty incredible how far ahead of his time he actually was,” Mr. Brown said of the precocious young man. “His lost notebook, which contained originating mock theta functions, which he said would be important one day, has turned out to be as he predicted.”

As if often true of independent filmmaking, Mr. Brown had to let go of some scenes he wanted to film but simply did not have the time or budget for.

“After living with the script and working on it for so long, it was kind of heartbreaking,” he said. “So the focus became to tell the heart of the story as best as possible in a way to honor it. And that I feel we accomplished.”

One of the other major accomplishments, done within such limited parameters, was recreating the Madras of 1914 in modern-day Chennai.

“It is such a modern city, loud, motorcycles everywhere, fireworks all night, and barely resembles its former self,” he said. “If it were not for the ingenuity and talent of production designer Luciana Arrighi, we would have been lost.”


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