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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 March 2006, 13:58 GMT
Film to celebrate maths genius
By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Delhi

Srinivasa Ramanujan
Ramanujan was a mathematical genius
British director Stephen Fry and India's Dev Benegal are to make a film about an Indian mathematician whose ideas underpin the digital revolution.

Srinavasa Ramanujan, a poor college dropout who died aged 33, ended up at Cambridge in the early 1900s and was acknowledged as a mathematical genius.

The joint production will look at his relationship with Cambridge don GH Hardy who "discovered" him.

The film will begin shooting next year in Tamil Nadu state and Cambridge.

When your automated teller machines divide and arrange your money before coughing it up, they are all using Ramanujan's partition theory
Director Dev Benegal

A "major American or British star" will play the cricket-loving Hardy, whose stamp of approval took Ramanujan to Cambridge University in 1914, Benegal told the BBC.

He said he and Fry would be looking for a "terrific Indian actor" to play Ramanujan.

"It won't be [Bollywood stars like] Amir Khan or Shah Rukh Khan surely. I am sure we will find the right actor," he said.

'Man who knew infinity'

The multi-million dollar film will be shot in Erode (where Ramanujan was born) and Kumbakonam (where he grew up) in Tamil Nadu, and in Cambridge where he spent five years.

GH Hardy
Hardy collaborated with Ramanujan for five years

Ramanujan returned to India in 1919, and died there a year later. His vegetarian diet in war-time Britain and the harsh winters took their toll on his health.

Later dubbed the "man who knew infinity", Ramanujan was born to a poor family in 1887.

He dropped out of college at a young age and lived off charity after his obsession with mathematics led him to fare badly in other subjects.

Craving recognition of his talents while working as a clerk at the port in Madras, he shot off letters to Cambridge mathematicians.

On his third attempt he found a sympathetic GH Hardy, who preferred the poor and disadvantaged to the "confident, booming, imperialist bourgeois English".

According to most accounts, Hardy initially thought Ramanujan's 10-page letter, containing over 100 statements of mathematical theorems, was a prank.

But after showing them to his peers, the academics concluded that the "results must be true because, if they were not true, no one would have the imagination to invent them".

Digital pioneer

Hardy's recognition of Ramanujan's talents took the young Indian to Cambridge, where the two worked together.

"What is amazing is that two people from two completely different backgrounds found a common language in the world of numbers and maths," says Benegal.

Stephen Fry
Fry studied at Cambridge himself

Benegal says he travelled to Erode and Kumbakonam to research the film, although the mathematician's relatives are all dead or untraceable.

Ramanujan's wife died in the late 1980s. She adopted a son only after her husband's death.

"For me, Ramanujan's work and ideas are the DNA of what powers digital technology today," says Benegal.

"When your automated teller machines divide and arrange your money before coughing it up, they are all using Ramanujan's partition theory."

Benegal says he first thought of making the film while travelling along the Kaveri river, past the towns in which Ramanujan had been born and studied all those years ago.

A chance encounter with the Cambridge-educated Fry a few months ago led to the two men discovering a common interest.

"I don't know whether the Ramanujan-Hardy encounter is part of Cambridge lore, but Fry definitely knew about it and had harboured a deep interest in the subject himself," says Benegal.


Fry and Benegal hope to meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh - himself a Cambridge alumnus - and Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam - whose birthplace is close to Ramanujan's - next week in Delhi.

Dev Benegal
Benegal discovered Fry's interest by chance

Dev Benegal's filmmaking career began in 1994 with his feature English, August (1994), an irreverent study of the lumbering Indian bureaucracy.

His next film - Split Wide Open Dev, about the war for water - was short listed for Venice International Film Festival.

The multi-talented Fry is one of Britain's best-known actors, comedians and writers. He made his directorial debut with Bright Young Things in 2003.

He recently criticised the "ridiculous sense of elitism" at Cambridge University.

"The best thing about having gone to Cambridge University was never having to deal with not going there," he said after receiving an honorary degree at the city's other higher education institution, Anglia Ruskin University, last year.

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