‘Slumdog’ Patel primed for film on math genius Ramanujan

December 3, 2015

It’s been seven years since Dev Patel burst into the limelight as the gangly actor in the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” and the 25-year-old has had his pick of acting roles in television and films.

Actor Dev Patel arrives for the premiere of the movie "The Man Who Knew Infinity" during the 40th Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, September 17, 2015. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill/Files Since his movie debut in 2008, Patel has worked in high-profile TV shows such as Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” and popular movies like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel“.

Patel’s latest film “The Man Who Knew Infinity“, based on the life of Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, was screened at the International Film Festival of India in Goa last month.

In a phone interview with Reuters, Patel spoke about his role in the film, how “Slumdog Millionaire” changed his life and why he wishes people were colour blind.

Q: What did you think of Srinivas Ramanujan and how did you play him?
A: It’s interesting because there is no real footage or sound clippings of him. So, the element of mimicry is not there. In a way, that’s quite freeing for a performer. We did do research though, and I read the book that the film is based on. I worked on my accent a lot and the main thing was to get the restraint and resilience that he had about him. He probably experienced a great deal of prejudice, especially in Cambridge. I wanted to capture that.

Q: How much of this process was during the film and how much was before?
A: Well, the director had the script with him for nine years. I worked on it as well with him. We worked on trying to flesh out the two characters. The masses wouldn’t really connect with the complex mathematics of it all, so the idea was to bring the humans behind the maths forward. And two very different human beings: man from middle-class India – a poor clerk, and one of the greatest mathematicians in Britain who was an emotionally stunted human being and had to care for this young man. It was two worlds colliding together. Jeremy (Irons) attached himself to the film after I did, and the rest of the cast just fell in place.

Q: In India, you are still identified by “Slumdog Millionaire”. Does that bother you?
A: No, not all. It did make my career, there’s no two ways about it. It put me on the map and opened the doors to India for the West. Now there is a renewed interest in India and story-telling from here in the West. I am one of the actors who have been able to enjoy the benefits of that.

Q: There are lot of actors who are Indian or of Indian origin and working in the West. Do you find that your ethnicity is a limitation when it comes to the kind of roles you get offered?
A: Yes and no. I have come to embrace my heritage and I feel lucky that it has given me such a uniqueness in the industry. I feel lucky that I can bring stories from culture to the world. On the other hand, sometimes you wish people could be colour blind and you could be play an average Joe, no matter what his name is. That is changing though, slowly.

Q: In what way?
A: Hollywood is becoming very diverse. At the end of the day, most of the time, the best actor will get the job. My focus is on not forcing people to cast me because I am brown … but because I am talented.

Q: You’ve worked simultaneously on a TV show and movies. Is it difficult to straddle the two mediums?
A: TV is a very difficult medium. Instead of being able to explore the material like you are able to in film, in TV you have to churn out material at a much faster rate. At the same time, you get to explore those characters for a much longer time. And some of the stuff on American television is great. I enjoy both mediums.

Q: I have to ask you the inevitable question. Are you going to work in Bollywood?
A: (Laughs) There are already so many amazing actors in Bollywood, and I don’t think they are starving for talent there. I don’t know if I quite pass the muster there or not.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan; Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay and Tony @TonyTharakan. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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