Rajasekaran’s Ramanujam will be a study in struggle, the struggle of a man whose infinite numbers made little sense to fellow Indians.
Tamil director Gnana Rajasekaran is one, and he has till now made two biopics, and is on to the third. He has directed a couple of more movies, not biopics though, in a career that for him began only in 1994.
Till then, Rajasekaran was an Indian Administrative Service officer, whose postings helped him to pursue his first love, cinema. As one who worked in the culture-rich Kerala and also as the head of the Kerala State Film Development Corporation, he had an excellent opportunity to dabble in cinema, which he did by taking leave from work.
Rajasekaran’s first movie, Mogamul, was a bold look at love between an older woman and a young man. Later, his attempts to capture on celluloid the lives of legends like Tamil poet Bharati and Tamil rationalist and founder of the Dravidian movement Periyar attracted both popular and critical acclaim.
Rajasekaran is now on to creating on film the brilliance of Srinivasa Ramanujam, the mathematical wizard who was first recognised by the West before his own country accepted his genius.
Strangely, India has never recognised talent and excellence. At least not until that genius is acknowledged outside the country. I sometimes wonder whether Mahatma Gandhi would have won the respect and affection in India had it not been for the incident in South Africa.
Of course, everybody knows that Satyajit Ray was ignored in his own home of Bengal till the Cannes Film Festival honoured him with an award, albeit a minor one. But that was enough to wake up his own countrymen. Even decades later, it was Hollywood’s Oscar for Lifetime Achievement which was given to him on his deathbed in 1992 that pushed the Government of India to bestow the Bharat Ratna on the master.
Similarly, Ramanujam was first noticed by British mathematician GH Hardy, who understood the young man from India’s Tamil Nadu was in the same league as mathematicians Euler and Gauss. Hardy invited Ramanujam to Cambridge where the two worked together.
But malnutrition and illness killed Ramanujam in 1920 when he was just 32. During his short life, he independently compiled 3,900 results, mostly identities and equations, and almost all of them have been proved correct.
However, for generations of Indians, Ramanujam has remained a virtual stranger, and it is in this context that Rajasekaran’s under-production biopic on the prodigy assumes immense importance.
The movie being shot in Tamil and English, has Abhinay (son of the renowned Tamil actors, Gemini Ganesh and Savithri) playing the protagonist.
During a shoot in an old bungalow in the busy Nungambakkam area of Chennai – a scene where we see a tuberculosis-struck young Ramanujam resting by the his bed and working on his mathematical discoveries – Rajasekaran tells me that his aim in making the film was to underline the callousness with which we treat our geniuses. The mathematician was a classic case. Nobody, or just about, understood the man’s aptitude and ability.
“One of the biggest problems in India is the way talent is suppressed by society, often through marriage. You get the man married and burden him with domesticity, as Ramanujam was,” Rajasekaran quips. He hopes that his films would help the country realise how wrong it is to ignore greatness.
For every Ramanujam, there may have been many others who could have died unsung. As Bertrand Russell once wrote, for every genius who might have triumphed over adversity, there could have been others who succumbed in youth.
Rajasekaran’s Ramanujam will be a study in struggle, the struggle of a man whose infinite numbers made little sense to fellow Indians. They only saw in him oddity and eccentricity.
But these precisely were the traits of a mastermind, few understood, till Ramanujam sailed the seas to faraway shores where accolades and awards awaited him.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at[email protected]