Abhinay Vaddi, Bhama, Suhasini Maniratnam, Y.G. Mahendran, Radha Ravi, Delhi Ganesh, Kevin McGowan, Michael Lieber
Civil servant-turned-filmmaker Gnana Rajasekaran began his love affair with cinema in 1994 with Mogamul, a mushy story about a young boy falling in love with an older woman. But Rajasekaran switched tracks and settled down to creating biopics like Bharathi and Periyar.Read:Ramanujan goes beyond the wizard's achievements: Sarath Babu
His latest, Ramanujan, traces the short life of the Indian mathematical prodigy - a life of brilliance that would have gone unsung and wasted had it not been for an equally eminent British math professor, G.H. Hardy, at Cambridge. Hardy recognised Srinivas Ramanujan's (played by Abhinav Vaddi, grandson of veteran stars Gemini Ganesh and Savithri) genius in numbers and invited him to work at Cambridge. Which Ramanujan did, but the food that he found unpalatable there led to malnutrition and finally tuberculosis. He died young.
The movie is a poignant look at the way a prodigy struggled and suffered in a penurious family, a mastermind whose mathematical wizardry invited ridicule and revulsion in far lesser mortals. Rajasekaran, who also scripted the film, takes us through a linear narrative to tell us about the intelligence of boy Ramanujan as he completely foxes his school-master with a little insight into the importance of zero, and later about his frustration when he hits a wall in his quest to sink into, and shine, with numbers.
Read: Ramanujan an important film in Indian cinema: Thalaivasal Vijay
Cinematographer Sunny Joseph ably captures the mood and ambience at Cambridge to contrast them with those in what was then Madras, where Ramanujan returns from Britain to be with his young wife, Janaki (Bhama) and mother, Komalatammal (Suhasini Maniratnam). Rajasekaran does give us a nuanced and balanced view of Ramanujan's life with figures and, outside these, with especially his mother and wife. We see pride in the mother's face when the son's talent is honoured, and we also see her concern when he begins to grow close to his wife. There are a couple of outstanding scenes between Janaki and Ramanujan which ably captures the underlying tension between a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law.
But in the end, what Rajasekaran stresses in his work -- as he did tell me last October during an interview in Chennai - is the kind of punishment and humiliation a prodigy has to face in India. In a sea of mediocrity and in a country which not only tolerates ordinariness, but celebrates it, men like Ramanujan could lead a doomed existence.
On the flip side, Ramanujan is far too long, and a good story-teller can deliver what he wants to in 90 minutes. Cinema is an arrestingly visual medium in which economy of words can work wonders. And make it far more effective and even riveting. While Suhasini is superb as the scheming mother-in-law out to separate Ramanujan from Janaki (we get to know the reason right in the end), Bhama excels as the young wife forced to spend nights alone and, later, years away from her husband when he is at Cambridge.
British actor McGowan is a brilliant Hardy, but Abhinay is stiff and wooden. When he is neither of these, he is shown as a weak and weepy guy - who bursts into tears at the slightest of misfortune. Some say that Ramanujan was never such a weakling. Whatever that be, the fact remains that Ramanujan loses out because its lead actor is just not right for the role.