From a ‘slumdog’ to essaying the character of Srinivasa Ramanujan, actor Dev Patel has made a big leap. On the second day of IFFI, Goa, he talks of multiculturalism, his method of acting and why, to him, Ramanujan is the Jackson Pollock of mathematics. The Man Who Knew Infinity, on the relationship between Cambridge don G.H. Hardy and Ramanujan, was the opening film of the festival.
You don’t look like Srinivasa Ramanujan at all. Did you throw a ‘why-me’ question at your director?
Not me. The film wasn’t a documentary so mimicking was not necessary to capture Ramanujan’s essence. We had not much to go by except for some old black-and-white photographs. There was no stock footage to show the quality of his voice, or the way he moved. What we wanted to capture was the nobility of his personality in the face of immense prejudice.
Victor Banerjee had said that to portray Dr Aziz in The Passage to India he had to speak Indian English. But in The Man Who Knew Infinity you are, of course, mannerism-less.
The film is dialogue-heavy. You can’t carry long dialogues for very long with a South Indian accent. So, I opted for a subtle accent that would not overwhelm my expressions.
What helped you capture Ramanujan?
Ken Ono, one of the best young mathematicians, was involved in the project. He helped us break down complex theories. He showed us the symmetry in these things, which helped me remember as I chalked a few of them on the classroom blackboard for scenes in the film.
You are a London boy. Is multiculturalism fraying in England? One hears from time to time that the English feel they must review this tradition.
Multiculturalism is a good thing. I was very lucky to have grown up in the England that I have. Never faced the racism that Ramanujan did. The Cambridge of Ramanujan’s era was a stiff community unwelcoming to others. Ramanujan was seen as a man with a brown skin. But there were other factors as well. He was the Jackson Pollock of mathematics. He was a man trying to break into a rigid field.
From ‘slumdog millionaire’ to Srinivasa Ramanujan – quite a leap. How does the pressure of a single-hero project help the acting?
That pressure makes me want to give 110 per cent. Those are big shoes to fill.
Do you even like the word ‘slumdog’? I have always found it a little weird.
How do you like the word millionaire? I mean if you break the title down, or say, replace it with ‘rich millionaire’ instead, that’s boring. The beauty is in the juxtaposition. The people of Dharavi have seen the film, they didn’t seem to mind.
Watch: Trailer of The Man Who Knew Infinity
Do you have an acting method?
I am technically a better actor now. I OCD on myself during a project -- memorising and constant repetition helps the acting process. People close to me understand that they will have to lose their friend for a little while.
Do emotional risks taken during acting impact your actual life? Did they have an impact on your relationship with Freida Pinto? Are you seeing anyone else now?
No. And this is not a Bollywood no. There is no ‘special friend’, I mean.