Fry Launches Film on India's Digital Maths Pioneer

Written by James MacGregor on . Posted in Scripts and Development

Stephen Fry - "fascinated" by the story of two Cambridge maths pioneersA multi-million dollar Indo-UK feature about maths genius Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan and his friendship with Cambridge don GH Hardy has been soft-launched in India. The biopic, scheduled for rolling in early 2007, has been developed by British actor-director Stephen Fry and Indian filmmaker Dev Benegal, who independently had wanted to bring Ramanujan's life to the screen.



Dev Benegal, Fry's co-writer and collaborator in number work“Both of us strongly felt that the fascinating story of Ramanujan’s journey to England and his collaboration with Hardy had to be told,” says Benegal, who has so far directed feature films English, August and Split Wide Open.   

Fry learned about “the man who knew infinity” while studying at Cambridge. “As a literature student, I felt mathematics was a dry, drab subject,” says the actor-director. “Then I read about the Hardy-Ramanujan relationship in (English author and physicist) CP Snow’s foreword to a book authored by Hardy, A Mathematician’s Apology, and was completely hooked.”
Benegal’s was drawn to the brilliant mathematician’s short but remarkable life in the mid 1980s, when he was involved with a documentary on the River Cauvery, the filmmaker had spent some time in Erode and Kumbakonam, where Ramanujan was born and educated.

Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan rose from Madras Harbour clerk to global recognition as a mathematical genius“I knew back then that the Ramanujan story would be perfect for the big screen,” says Benegal. “When I mentioned it to people in Mumbai, they thought I was nuts.” So, the idea remained at the back of Benegal’s mind “like an unfinished symphony”.

The project leaped forward when Benegal met Fry’s production partner Gina Carter in October last year at the festival of British films in Dinard. Carter told Benegal Fry was looking for an Indian co-writer and co-director for a film on Ramanujan’s life. From there everything snowballed.

Fry says The Ramanujan film will be a far cry from the usual run of British Raj sagas. "The challenge," he adds, "is to tell a story about numbers in an engaging way."


“The drama will spring from the extraordinary social, cultural and temperamental contrasts between Ramanujan and Hardy. The former was a very conservative, deeply spiritual Tamil Brahmin while the latter was a member of a new generation of British intellectuals led by Bertrand Russell – socialist, atheist, anti-imperialist, anti-war.”

The film will be co-produced by Gina Carter and Stephen Fry’s Sprout Productions and Benegal’s Tropic Films.


Carter, who also served as producer of Fry’s directorial debut feature, Bright Young Things, says: “Stephen and Dev are currently in the process of scripting. It is not final yet, but we are toying with the idea of Stephen helming the India segment and Dev directing the Cambridge portions.”

Ramanujan, a college dropout from a poor family, was an accounts clerk for Madras Port Trust. He had little formal education but a way with numbers. He wrote a letter to Hardy in early 1913, revealing some of his pioneering theories. Once he had overcome initial scepticism about Ramanujan’s credentials, Hardy invited him over to Cambridge. The lives of the two men were destined never to be the same after that first meeting.

For vegetarian Ramanujan, the five years he spent in England took a toll on his health. A year after his return to India in 1919, Ramanujan passed away at the age of 33.

Godfrey Harold Hardy - Cambridge don & mathematical geniusHardy, who described Ramanujan as “a transcendent genius”, formed a special bonding with the “simple man with an incredible mind”. Hardy was amazed by Ramanujan’s ability to manipulate infinite series, continued fractions and the like.


For Benegal, the contemporary resonance of the Ramanujan story stems from the mathematician’s contribution to the foundation of modern digital technology, which had been recognised by among others, India President APJ Abdul Kalam, who was present for the film launch. Benegal says: “President Kalam gave us some papers that he has written on Ramanujan and his number theory,” reveals Benegal.

Ramanujan’s story is a celebration of the power of the mind, says Benegal. “Without any support system to prop him up, he achieved what no Indian had ever done. He proved that the mind can never be imprisoned, that no matter where you came from you could be a part of the global scene,” he adds.