Stephen Colbert, the host of enormously famous The Colbert Report, once presented a short spoof on Poincare Conjecture and Grigori Perelman. A common American would say, “I know who Stephen Colbert is. But Poincare Conjecture and Grigori Perelman*? I have simply no idea.” He should be forgiven. After all Poincare Conjecture is no sci-fi movie and Perelman is no rock star. This was in year 2006.
What was the motivation behind this spoof? The spoof on hitherto unknown Poincare Conjecture and Perelman was barely 5 minutes long but must’ve lingered on some people’s mind and yet some might have explored more about those. Little things matter. If these little things happen more regularly, their effect becomes significant especially when other efforts like ‘Futurama’ also contribute to the cause.
‘The Big Bang Theory‘ is another case in point. The idea behind this sitcom (even when there might not be such an idea) was powerful. There are hundreds of references to various science terms (such as Loop Quantum Gravity, String Theory and Higgs Boson) and some cameo appearances of notable scientists (such as Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson). This sitcom must have ignited curiosity of many minds about Physics and Nature.
In a sense, Hollywood movie industry has tried to celebrate science and scientists in many different ways. Characters of Albert Einstein and Kurt Gödel have been incorporated in the movie ‘I.Q.’ While making the movie ‘Sleeper’, iconic movie director Woody Allen actually discussed with Isaac Asimov about the scientific feasibility of ideas which were used in movie. This is actually a very remarkable story as it points out the relationship between two entirely different fields. It is worth mentioning that the movie ‘I, Robot’ starring Will Smith is based on the short story collection written by Isaac Asimov. Similarly, almost every work of H. G. Wells such as ‘The War of the Worlds’, ‘Empire of the Ants’ had been adopted for movies of the same names. Dozens of such examples can be listed down. Obviously through such collaborations, audience and in turn science gains a lot. Everyone is a winner.
I think one of the most serious effort was made by Carl Sagan when he collaborated for thirteen part TV Series ‘Cosmos: A Personal Voyage’ during 1980’s with Carl Sagan himself as presenter for this series. In those days, Carl Sagan was the leading astrophysicist and science popularizer. It is estimated that more than 500 million people have watched this series. To this day, he is a profound influence and role model to millions of people (me included). I somewhere read that Cosmos series was broadcasted on Doordarshan too, though I can’t recall watching that. May be I was too young at that time. Speaking of Doordarshan, despite being much hated channel, it in fact did some commendable job in spreading science. Anyone remember Turning Point series hosted by Girish Karnad? Apart from this, there were numerous appearances of scientists like Professor Yash Pal on Doordarshan. You just don’t see this kind of stuff on Indian channels anymore.
Perhaps Ramanujan was the only true world-class genius India has produced in last 300 years. In many ways, Ramanujan’s life was as much about triumphs as it was about tragedies. Ramanujan could’ve done much more than what he did. His work could’ve been in more advanced areas of Mathematics, if only he had been born in some other country other than India. There are some news reports that two movies are being made on Ramanujan and sadly (or may be luckily) none of these is Indian project. These are Hollywood projects. Had it been an Indian project, they might have focused on ‘Ramanujan the lover’ rather than ‘Ramanujan the mathematician’. They would have botched up the movie. Remember they didn’t spare Bhagat Singh from love story in ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’?
Pressing hard my memories, the only movie which had anything to do with science was ‘Swades’. They actually shot the movie at NASA. The project GPM (Global Precipitation Management) which Shahrukh Khan was shown to be working on in this movie was actual project. Apart from this, none other movie comes to my mind which is just pathetic. We are just not interested in scientific education. Science is not in our culture.
In the entire Hindi Cinema history, there was only one thing which when I watched kind of made my day. See the following video of an old Hindi movie ‘Aman’ starring Rajendra Kumar. This video shows a part of the movie in which Rajendra Kumar talks to intellectual giant late Bertrand Russell. This is perhaps the only time our movie showed some respect to intellect, a sole star twinkling in vast and dark sky of Hindi movie scenario.
*Grigori Perelman solved Poincare Conjecture in 2003. The entire story surrounding Grigori Perelman and his solution to Poincare Conjecture in itself is an intriguing, rather baffling, story in recent mathematical history. Poincare Conjecture is one of the seven mathematical problems listed by Clay Mathematics Institute and Institute offers US $ 1 million for correct solution to any of these problems. Perelman was first and only mathematician to solve any of the so called Millennium Prize Problems. For his solution to Poincare Conjecture, Clay Mathematics Institute awarded him Clay Millennium Prize but surprisingly, Perelman refused to accept the prize. Prior to this, he was awarded Fields Medal; a medal which is equivalent to Nobel Prize in Mathematics and offered every four year to mathematicians not over 40 years of age. Perelman turned this down too. Soon after this, Perelman withdrew himself into reclusion. He cut himself off from rest of the world.