Roger Spottiswoode, better known as the director of “Tomorrow Never Dies”, on why he's making a film on the life of mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan.
This shy, unassuming man from Kumbakonam was just 32 when he died due to illness. But the mark he left on the mathematical world is indelible. Had he been alive, Srinivasa Ramanujan would have been amazed at the amount of interest in his life; there have been at least three known projects attempting to put the genius's life on celluloid in the last five or six years. But neither Dev Benegal nor Edward Pressman and not even Indian director Rohit Jugraj have managed to bring the man to screen yet.
It is Roger Spottiswoode, better known as the man who directed the Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies”, who is at the helm of affairs for “The First Class Man” starring actor Siddharth as Ramanujan. The film deals with the friendship between the deeply spiritual self-taught mathematical wizard and the Trinity mathematician G.H. Hardy whose only love besides maths was reportedly cricket! The film's script has been completed and shooting is being planned from next year in England and Chennai.
How it began
“About 10 years ago, my friend David Freeman wrote a play about Ramanujan's life. I became interested in SR (Ramanujan) then and have followed David and his screenplay, which he wrote a few years later, ever since,” says Spottiswoode, when asked about the movie on the math genius. Elaborating that human relationships and not just mathematical issues form the crux of the film, he says. “David's script concentrates largely on the time Ramanujan was at Cambridge; so it deals closely with his relationship with two other Trinity mathematicians: Hardy and Littlewood. It is the story of the friendship between these three and, although they discuss their work, it is a story of relationships and not of mathematical equations.”
Spottiswoode has relied on multiple sources for the film, including a sizeable chunk from Ramanujan: the Man and the Mathematician by S.R. Ranganathan. Freeman has also used the Ramanujan papers at Trinity and various accounts of Hardy's life and his collected papers for his original screenplay. As far as actors were concerned, Spottiswoode had a fair bit of hunting to do: meeting several people, auditioning them and watching films. Apparently it was “Rang De Basanti” that was the table turner for Siddharth. “I realised Siddharth would be the perfect actor for the part. He came to London for a meeting a few months ago and we spent several days discussing the script. He already had considerable knowledge and understanding of the history and character of Ramanujan.”
Spottiswoode is keen to make this film a bi- or tri-lingual film to ensure wider audience reach. Ask him about the experience of making a maths drama versus a slick Bond flick and he replies, “While this is a long way from a Bond film, I have made a number of other films on interesting and non-fictitious subjects such as ‘And the Band Played On', ‘Hiroshima', ‘God's Favorite', ‘Mesmer', ‘ Shake Hands with the Devil'...”
Not just Bollywood
He has recently returned from Mumbai where he was part of the international jury at the Mumbai Film Festival and says he is very impressed with the quality of Indian cinema and doesn't use it as a synonym for Bollywood.
“I do see Indian films but not as many as I would like to find time for. I find the new emerging Indian cinema fascinating and compelling and can see that one day it will take an even stronger position beside Bollywood.”
Ramanujan on celluloid
Twice before, Ramanujan's life story was planned for the silver screen. In 2006, producer Ed Pressman acquired the rights to Robert Kanigel's 1991 biography The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan.
Later that year, Stephen Fry and Dev Benegal together announced a biopic. Both projects are yet to see light of day. In early 2010, Bollywood director Rohit Jugraj announced he would make a biopic.
Before Siddharth, Spottiswoode reportedly approached Aamir Khan for the role of Ramanujan but the actor declined it. The director was said to be impressed by “Lagaan”.