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Hollywood discovers Indian maths genius

March 31, 2006 16:47 IST
Matthew A Brown, the scriptwriter and director of the newly announced biopic The Man Who Knew Infinity, gently laughs off the headline: 'Suddenly an Indian Mathematician Is Hot, Hot, Hot.'

The headline refers to two films announced this month on Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar, who struggled through poverty and ill health to reach Cambridge University from Madras (now Chennai) over 90 years ago, and who -- with the encouragement of an eccentric professor G H Hardy -- pioneered mathematical theories that startled the world of numbers.

"It wasn't really sudden," says Brown of his Hollywood project. "We have been working on this for three years, and it has been a very long process. What is also more important is that we have the rights to Robert Kanigel's incredibly compelling book."

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"We are ready to start shooting in a few months," Brown says.

MIT professor Kanigel's 1991 biography The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life Of The Genius Ramanujan has been acclaimed not only for celebrating the mathematician's life and his friendship with Hardy but also for beautifully explaining their mathematical quest.

"Kanigel trusted us with his great work, and he appreciated what we are after," Brown says, adding that he had started reading the book over three years ago when an aunt came across it at her reading club in San Francisco and offered him a copy.

The announcement of the Hollywood project was made on Wednesday. The film is being made by Edward R Pressman, one of the most eclectic of Hollywood producers and whose hits include the current satire Thank You For Smoking, The Crow franchise, and Oscar winners such as Wall Street, Das Boot and Reversal Of Fortune.

The announcement came about two weeks after the British actor and writer Stephen Fry announced his own film to be co-directed with Dev Benegal.

"We had waited to announce our film only because we wanted the script to be ready," Brown says, adding that the story of Ramanujan and Hardy is so intriguing and rich that there was no doubt or hesitation in his mind about going ahead with the project.

Pressman, who has produced 83 films in Hollywood and Europe over three decades, is also not worried about the competition.

'While I can't speak for the Fry project, my sense is we're a bit farther along,' he told Hollywood Reporter.

This would be Brown's second directorial vehicle following the 30-minute long My Father's Garden, a 2002 film shown at the Venice Film Festival.

Brown will start shooting his biopic in the second part of this year. Casting for the film will start in a few weeks.

"We will be looking across the world for an actor to play Ramanujan," Brown says, acknowledging that it would be comparatively easier to find someone to play Hardy. "I am sure there is a pool of excellent actors who can play this complex and fascinating genius," he adds.

"Who knows, suddenly we might come across someone like Ben Kingsley," he continues referring to the actor, son of an Indian physician and his British wife, who played the title role in the 1982 Oscar winner, Gandhi. "We want an Indian to play the part."

Arthur J Pais