The Man Who Knew Infinity is the biopic of Indian mathematician Srinivas Ramanujan, whose groundbreaking formulas continue to be used by scientists to analyze black holes even today. The film feels safe and conventional, and frankly a tad boring. Which is a shame, because it’s such an extraordinary story.


Dev Patel stars as Ramanujan, a self-taught maths genius employed as a lowly clerk in 1914 Madras when he sent samples of his theories to Cambridge professor GH Hardy (Jeremy Irons) who recognized his talent and invited him to come study in England. Confronted with prejudice from snooty dons on campus, and missing his wife terribly, Ramanujan battled racism and isolation in chilly Cambridge, where he nevertheless stayed five years and produced a staggering volume of original work. On being diagnosed with tuberculosis, he returned home to India, where he died at the age of 32.


Director Matt Brown offers a reverential portrait of our protagonist but struggles to convey the magic of numbers. Although much noise is made about Ramanujan’s revolutionary theories and ideas, we’re provided very little evidence of this. There is repeated talk of prime numbers and partitions, and we watch as crusty professors are bewildered by his ‘intuitive’ deductions. But ask me what I learned about his achievements, and I’m still blank.


The best thing about the film, however, is the slow-burning friendship between Hardy and Ramanujan, who start out as mentor-protégé but evolve into equal partners with time. Jeremy Irons does a great job of softening Hardy’s edges, investing the famously authoritative veteran with a degree of warmth. Dev Patel, although miscast as Ramanujan (Whose idea was it to hire a British Asian actor with Gujarati roots and a London accent in the role of a late 19th-century Tam-Brahm?) nicely communicates the excitability and the passion of the man. There’s an unmistakable earnestness in Patel’s performance that’s hard not to appreciate.


The film is handsomely mounted, and the scenes shot at Trinity College Cambridge are particularly impressive. But because the film never truly succeeds in conveying Ramanujan’s accomplishments, it remains a mostly superficial affair. I’m going with two out of five.

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