Years ago in 1998-99, when Kate Winslet came to India to film Kiwi director Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke, the entire schedule in New Delhi and Pushkar was kept under a strict wrap. Nobody knew where the cameras were capturing the scenes. None knew how Winslet would appear in Holy Smoke. Till, Holy Smoke emerged out of its foggy environs.
We now see another Hollywood venture, Matthew Brown’s Dev Patel starrer, The Man Who Knew Infinity, cloaked in holier than thou smoke. Based on the life and times of the Tamil mathematical wizard, Srinivasa Ramanujan, the movie is now being lensed in Chennai – at the port and in a college.
But nobody is allowed to go anywhere near the locations of The Man Who Knew Infinity -- an Edward R Pressman and Animus Films production in association with Xeitgeist and Marcys Holdings. Such is the hush hush over the movie.
And what a contrast to Gnana Rajasekaran’s Ramanujan – also a biopic on the numbers genius – which hit the screens recently. The director, an Indian Administrative Officer-turned-helmer, invited journalists, including me, on the set, allowed us to watch the cameras roll and spoke extensively about his work.
Well, getting back to Brown’s work, Patel, whose Slumdog Millionaire tag still sticks (while his co-star in that film, Frieda Pinto, has travelled miles and miles away from the shanties of Mumbai), is reportedly costumed in a “veshti”. And what a difference that would be from his yuppie look in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, where he plays a resort manager in Rajasthan.
Although reports say that Patel looks very much like Ramanujan – who died very young and practically unsung – a leading Tamil actress told me some weeks ago that those who chose the locations for Brown’s movie had got them wrong. The film unit shot in Kumbakonam and Pondicherry before getting into Chennai.
One does not know if at all Patel will even vaguely resemble Ramanujan, and actress Devika Bhise look anything like his wife. Bhise grew up in Manhattan, and she explains that her Indianness has always dominated her personality.
“I’ve been learning and mastering the Bharatanatyam from the age of four in Manhattan. I think my dancing was one of the main reasons why I bagged this role,” Bhise told the Press.
“You see, Bharatanatyam involves a lot of the Tamilian Iyengar culture to which Ramanujan and his wife belonged. Bharatanatyam is not just about dancing. Along with the dance, I also learnt the whole culture, the Sanskrit slokas, the body language and the language of the Iyengar Brahmins,” she said.
Bhise also spent time in Cambridge where Ramanujan once researched. There, she met and interacted with Robert Kanigel, who wrote the Ramanujan biography, on which Brown’s movie is based.