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To Infinity And Beyond

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Interview Devika Bhise

Rhea Dhanbhoora speaks with actress Devika Bhise about her role in the recently released biographical drama, The Man Who Knew Infinity

Actress Devika Bhise may not be a household name in India yet, but there’s no reason why she couldn’t be very  soon. She plays the humble wife of mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan alongside Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons in The Man Who Knew Infinity. We spoke to her to find out more about her role in the film and what kind of impression it has had on her.

How did you deal with the hardships that might have come with your journey to becoming Janaki?
When they were casting The Man Who Knew Infinity, they wanted Janaki to be played by someone who wasn’t from Mumbai, because they wanted the actress to be ‘authentically Indian’. After explaining the cultural differences throughout India (that a girl from Mumbai has just as much in common with a Tamilian Brahmin Iyengar girl from Kumbakonam as a New Yorker does) and my many years of Bharatanatyam training that have exposed me to South Indian culture, I was finally able to do a screen test. That was probably the biggest hurdle I had to overcome to be cast as Janaki.

Were you able to feel a connection with a simple Indian girl like Janaki?
Absolutely! Her story is universal, and people across cultures and time periods can empathise with her situation. Strong and supportive wives are always the unsung heroines of stories like this, and I’m incredibly happy that part of her story was included in the film. I’ve also been spending two or more months a year in India since I was born, so I never felt alienated from the culture.

Ramanujan left Janaki behind when he moved to England for five years. What would have you done, if you were in her position?
I think Janaki did the best that she could, given her circumstances. Ramanujan made such an impact on the world of mathematics that she had to let him leave for the greater good. Perhaps if she went with him she would have been able to take better care of him and he wouldn’t have died so young. But, her options were limited, and she had to adhere to the rules of her family and community.

Did playing Janaki change you in any way?
Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes always changes and informs your perspective on life. After living in Janaki’s world for a few weeks, I feel grateful for all the liberties I have in 2016 and I have stopped complaining about trivial things!

Do you believe in love and sacrifice like Janaki did?
Of course. I think that relationships should be more of a balancing act today, where both parties take turns making sacrifices and supporting their partner. Unfortunately, because of the time period and circumstances, Janaki gave much more of herself in that relationship than she ever received in return.

Can you trace your journey of getting prepared to play this role to a particular point?
Honestly, I can trace my journey of getting this role to when I started learning Bharatanatyam at the age of four. After that, when I was in my first year at Johns Hopkins, I acted in a play in Baltimore called Partition by Ira Hauptman, which is based on the book The Man Who Knew Infinity by Robert Kanigel. I played a different character, and the style of the play was different too, but the story was the same. Several years later, the same play led to my meeting the producers and director of the film, and eventually getting cast. I feel quite fortunate that so many series of events led to my being in this beautiful film!

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