But maths or no maths, the British-born Patel, a native of the western Indian state of Gujarat, believes that by playing the genius Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar, the 19th century Indian wizard of numbers, in Matt Brown’s “The Man Who Knew Infinity”, the actor is fulfilling an almost sacred obligation of bringing the legacy of an Indian hero back to his homeland.
Patel, who is in Goa to attend the inaugural ceremony of the 46th International Film Festival of India (IFFI), which opens with his film, spoke to a select audience about his role as Ramanujan, his fear of being typecast as the ‘Asian guy’, how Hollywood is evolving and, of course, his dread for mathematics.
“As a matter of fact, I was terrible at mathematics. It was worse because my father is an accountant. Hey, thus is life. I am playing one of the greats (Ramanujan). I think there is a lot of acting that was involved,” the strapping six-foot-two-inch tall actor said.
Patel leads the star cast which has the masterly Jeremy Irons, an Academy award winner, Stephen Fry, Toby Jones, Devika Bhise among others.
The film, which largely tracks down the life of Ramanujan in Cambridge and his passage to Britain and back to India after his stint at Trinity, according to Patel, is a priceless homage to one of India’s greatest geniuses.
“I think it was a very important agenda for us, to always bring this story back to India. My heritage as you know, I was from Gujarat. I feel great responsibility to bring back the great Indian icon back and I am lucky enough to be able to do so,” Patel said.
Asked if he felt typecast into playing ‘typically’ Asian roles in the West, the actor said that while his motto was to convert adversity into opportunity, he also believed that Hollywood was in the process of evolving.
“I don’t mind being sort of ambassador to my culture. That being said, does it require that much hard work to get my foot in the door? Yes. Do people scrutinise the decisions I make more? Yes, One of my mottos is to see an obstacle as an opportunity. So people use the word typecast very loosely and like I said earlier on, I’ve turned what people see as a negative as something positive,” he said.
“Hollywood’s becoming more and more diverse, I am very lucky that I rode the wave of this incredible film ‘Slumdog (Millionaire)’, which was my first project and that kind of opened a lot of doors for a lot of actors including myself. The film was bigger than anyone that was in it really,” he said.
Patel point-blank said he did not have to face the obvious rigours of discrimination.
“So you know I am lucky, but I am not one to go on about any kind of… I haven’t faced any kind of obtuse discrimination in any way. It’s been a good journey with positives and negatives,” he said.