Ignored by India during his early years, Ramanujam came into the country’s consciousness only after the West called him a mathematical mastermind. A case quite identical to Satyajit Ray’s, whose presence was acknowledged in his native Bengal only after his debut feature, Pather Panchali, won an award at Cannes in 1956.
The great Ramanujam will come alive onscreen through the biopic. To be made in Tamil and English, the movie, Ramanujam, is being helmed by Gnana Rajasekaran with Abhinay -- grandson of Kathal Mannan (king of romance) Gemini Ganesh and actress Savithri -- playing the title role. Rajasekaran’s work assumes great significance as few in this generation know about Ramanujam’s contribution to the world of figures.
Born in Tamil Nadu’s Erode, the prodigy studied in the nearby temple town of Kumbakonam. He settled in Chennai (then Madras) but was shunned by the nation’s literati. That is till the West looked at him.
British mathematician GH Hardy realised that Ramanujam was one of the greatest wizards in the field despite growing up with no formal training and far away from the cream of scientific community, which was confined to Europe.
Hardy invited him to Cambridge where the two worked together before malnutrition and illness killed Ramanujam in 1920 at the age of 32. During his short life, he independently compiled 3900 results -- mostly mathematical identities and equations -- and almost all of them have been proved correct.
During a recent shoot in an old bungalow in Chennai, the team was picturising a scene where we see a tuberculosis-struck young Ramanujam resting by his bed and working on his mathematical discoveries.
Rajasekaran, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer-turned-moviemaker, said that he is fascinated by biopics. He already has two to his credit -- one on Tamil poet Bharati and the other on Tamil social reformer, rationalist and father of the Dravidian movement Periyar or EV Ramasamy.
One would suppose that the film on Ramanujam would have a great appeal at home and outside, given the impetus that is now being given to the life and work of the prodigy.
A writer by choice, Rajasekaran dabbled in Marathi theatre during his four-year stint with the ministry of home affairs in Mumbai. His father’s death and his last wish to see his son as an IAS officer impelled Rajasekaran to pursue a career in administration.
But luck seemed to hold his hand. While earlier at the ministry, he was given an assignment in the photo department, his first IAS posting was in Kerala, a state where cinema and culture are held in high esteem. Recognising his interest, he was asked to head the Kerala Film Development Corporation.
It was during his Kerala days that Rajasekaran made his first movie called Mogamul (1994), a plot that was syrupy and soapy, but radical for those times. It dealt with a young boy falling in love with an older woman. Bharati and Periyar followed in 2000 and 2007 respectively, and with Ramanujam, the director appears to have completed his trilogy of great Tamils.
Rajasekaran’s latest biopic begins in 1887, the year Ramanujam was born, and ends with his death in 1920. The film unit had a 15-day schedule at Cambridge, where the strictest of conditions were imposed. A professor was assigned to make sure that the crew and cast did not filthy the place (something common among Indian cinema guys), and they were not even allowed to touch the walls.
Earlier, the movie was shot at the house in Kumbakonam where Ramanujam spent his boyhood. The building is preserved by the Sastra University. The camera then panned to among other places the Town School and the Government College in the same city where Ramanujam studied, and then to the Chennai Port Trust, where he worked as a clerk.
Rajasekaran says that his aim in making the film was to underline the callousness with which we treat our prodigies and geniuses. “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 said. He hopes that his film would help the country realise how wrong it is to ignore greatness.