Director Gnana Rajasekaran says his upcoming biopic Ramanujan takes a look at how society treats its geniuses. The first look Tamil trailer of the film releases today

Director Gnana Rajasekaran makes historical biographies. After films on Bharati and Periyar, he now brings the story of Ramanujan, the math genius from Kumbakonam. It’s a bilingual in English and Tamil. As the first look of the Tamil version of the much-awaited biopic Ramanujan releases today, he shares his thoughts on making films with an underlying message for society. “Ramanujan was not only a mathematician; he was a genius by all standards,” he says.

The film deals with how society and academia handle such genius. “Ramanujan’s skills in mathematics were great even as a boy. He carried this skill like a cross throughout his life. Instead of being celebrated, his genius was ignored by society. That is what pushed me to make a movie about him. My previous biopics Bharati and Periyar were both subjects people could associate with. Similarly, Ramanujan is also relevant,” he says.

He hopes the biography will prompt society to look at how we treat our geniuses. Do we recognise them or do we push them towards madness, poverty and suffering? These are the questions Ramanujan’s life answers. Rajasekaran researched for over two years to understand the historicity of the period.

“Ramanujan was born into an orthodox family at a time Indian society was trying to reconcile ancient beliefs with Western notions of logic. How did he reconcile his scientific and religious beliefs? I had to refer to the social fabric in South India in the early 1900s and its customs and beliefs. I referred to Ragami’s Kanidha Methai Ramanujan. I referred to letters associated with Ramanujan’s life and mathematical books written about him,” he says.

The inspiration for this film came from the Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting. “There, one character tells another, ‘…Ramanujan had no formal education and had no access to any scientific work…. On his own, he extrapolated theories that have baffled mathematicians for years. This Ramanujan, his genius was unparalleled.’ That prompted me to bring Ramanujan’s life to the screen.”

Gnana Rajasekaran shot the film at the places Ramanujan lived and worked — such as his house and school in Kumbakonam and Cambridge University in England. “There is something surreal about historical places, maybe because a trace of the past lingers there,” he mentions.

On the choice of actor Abhinay Vaddi for the lead role, he says that in a biopic the protagonist has to share a physical resemblance and credibility to portray a historical figure. “Abhinay Vaddi’s subtle acting impressed me, and he has a spark in his eyes.” Other actors in the film are Suhasini Maniratnam as Komalatammal (Ramanujan’s mother), Kevin McGowan as Prof. Hardy (Kevin is a renowned stage and screen actor from the UK), Bhama as Janaki (Ramanujan’s wife), Abbas as Mahalanobis, Michael Lieber as Littlewood.

Rajasekaran says that since the Vedic times there have been original thinkers, but none of their ideas reached a logical conclusion. “That to me is the failure of Indian society. Ramanujan’s life portrays how academic institutions, society and family treat a genius; how they push him to despair. Even today the situation is the same. A genius is considered abnormal and society tries to change him, make him average.”

Most of Rajasekaran’s films have won awards and recognitions. “What is truly satisfying is people’s appreciation. I am enthralled when my film reaches the audience. When Bharati was released, I watched the film with the public in 55 theatres across Tamil Nadu and surprisingly all of them clapped at the same moment in the film. That made me happy. To know that the people got what I tried to say.”