Lion, Rooney Mara & Dev Patel

Rooney Mara & Dev Patel

Another current movie that’s a fan favorite is Lion (trailer), well worth seeing for the heart-warming true story and excellent acting. Garth Davis directed and Luke Davies wrote the screenplay, based on Saroo Brierley’s book, A Long Way Home, and the movie was lovingly filmed in Kolkata and Tasmania by cinematographer Greig Fraser .

The story begins in 1986, when five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) becomes separated from his older brother at a train station. He falls asleep on a decommissioned train and can’t get off for several days. Meanwhile, it has traveled far from his home, reaching the sprawling city of Kolkata. At the time, Kolkata had approximately 10 million residents, including thousands of orphans, and was full of dangers for a child—especially one from a rural area who could not speak the local Bengali. Some effort is made to help him find his family, but he doesn’t know enough. Eventually he’s adopted by an Tasmanian couple, Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham).

Only when Saroo is a young adult (Dev Patel) does the technology come along—Google Earth—that may be able to help him find home. The search becomes a secret obsession, threatening his relationship with his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and the parents who raised him. It’s worth the price of admission to see the happy-go-lucky Patel’s moment of overwhelming loss that starts this quest, triggered by the sight of the red jalebis he wanted as a child. With his hair grown out and shaggy, he even starts to look like a lion.

The story is rather straightforwardly about love, but what could have been overly sentimental is brought to a higher plane by virtue of the solid acting performances. Sunny Pawar, who plays the young Saroo is a marvel!

Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating 86%; audiences 93%.

Sunny Pawar, Barack Obama

Sunny Pawar meets Barack Obama

The Man Who Knew Infinity

Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, The Man Who Knew InfinityEven if you’re familiar with the broad outlines of Srinivasa Ramanujan’s amazing history, this movie (trailer), written and directed by Matt Brown, is intriguing and moving on many levels.

A mathematical genius, mostly self-taught and with no university degree, Ramanujan’s insights are still being applied and their significance explored today.

“Almost a century on, his work remains a fertile field of study, an object of astonishment, and a source of pride to his native land,” says Anthony Lane in The New Yorker.

Ramanujan grew up poor in early 20th century Madras (now Chennai), India. When his talents are finally taken seriously, he is encouraged to contact G.H. Hardy, a leading mathematician at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Hardy (played superbly by Jeremy Irons) is a bit of a misanthrope. He brings Ramanujan (Dev Patel) to Cambridge and becomes his mentor, not especially to do the young man any good, but for the intellectual challenge. He insists Ramanujan develop the proofs of the theorems he derives, it seems, by intuition. But Ramanujan is “a genius who can only explain that his propensity for solving problems and equations comes from God!” says Mimansa Shekhar in India Times.

Ramanujan struggled with the proofs, resenting that they keep him from developing new ideas. The tug-of-intellectual-war between the him and Hardy forms much of the movie’s conflict. Both of them confront a calcified British academic hierarchy, reluctant to admit an Indian could match—much less surpass—English intellectual prowess.

Hardy is interested in math. Full stop. While he recognizes Ramanujan’s mathematical powers, he’s little interested in the other aspects of life that animate his protégé—his culture, religion, and love of his wife (Devika Bhise) whom he’s left back home under the hostile supervision of his mother (Arundathi Nag).

Ramanujan does have advocates at Cambridge—Hardy’s mathematics colleague John Edensor Littlewood (Toby Jones) and Bertrand Russell (Jeremy Northam). But it’s the start of World War I, and people’s attention is mostly elsewhere.

Jeremy Irons is perfect, and I liked Dev Patel’s performance, too. Jones and Northam are always good. As with any biopic, the plot is constrained by the actual events of Ramanujan’s life, and in his case, those events—significant and earthshaking though they were and continue to be—take place mostly inside his head. Even if we moviegoers could see them, we wouldn’t understand them! Nevertheless, I found the story moving along rather perkily, aided by excellent scenes of India and his wife’s coping with her obsessive mother-in-law.

Definitely worth seeing, and a worthy subject for a film. In India, Ramanujan’s birthday, December 22, is celebrated as National Mathematics Day.

Rotten Tomatoes critics rating: 62%; audiences, 80%. (Why the gap? My guess is audiences are less bothered by the conventional story.)