tv series

‘Genius’ review: Albert Einstein’s private life was as monumental as his achievements

The National Geographic series is about a life touched by politics, love and hubris and scientific accomplishment.

The National Geographic series Genius offers a worm’s eye view of the most well-known scientist in the world, Albert Einstein. Starring Geoffrey Rush as the elder Einstein and Johnny Flynn as his younger self, the series is adapted from Walter Isaacson’s 2007 biography, Einstein: His Life and Universe.

Adapting for the screen the life of a scientist is no task for the faint-hearted. The moving picture derives its thrust from the rough and tumble of an action-packed plot, while science and scientific discovery are, by their very nature, monotonous undertakings that consume those who devote their lives to them.

Writers and filmmakers therefore opt to focus on stories that have enough drama aside from scientific triumph which, at least in fictionalisation, ends up as a mere footnote to other aspects of the scientist’s life. The Theory of Everything, for instance, offered much more on Stephen Hawking’s tortuous love life than on his seminal work on string theory.

So too, on current evidence, does Genius. In a non-linear narrative that flits between the end of the 19th century and Nazi Germany, the story presents Einstein as a man full of passion not just for science but other, more tender pursuits.

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Genius.

Born into a German Jewish family in 1879, Einstein showed an early disregard for classroom pedagogy, preferring to spend time with books and conduct his own experiments. This created friction between him and his father, a businessman and manufacturer of electrical devices, who worried that his son’s quixotic ideas would ruin his prospects.

That was not to be. Einstein not only received his diploma from the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich, but went on to complete his PhD there in 1905, the same year he proposed both the groundbreaking special theory of relativity and his ideas on photoelectric effect.

Genius, which is 10 episodes long, takes a leisurely look at this life. In the first two episodes, we are offered glimpses of Einstein’s time in Zurich, where he fail his first attempt at the entrance exam, and Aarau, to which he is dispatched to prepare afresh for the test. In Aarau, he falls in love with Marie, the daughter of his host Jost Winteler.

In Zurich, he meets Mileva Maric (Samantha Colley), a fellow student at the Polytechnic and the only female candidate in the mathematics and physics department. A romance blossoms, prompting Einstein to break off his engagement with Marie.

Throughout his life, Einstein could be both astonishingly callous and extraordinarily generous, and Flynn ably captures early instances of this dichotomy.

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Time Is But a Stubborn Illusion: Genius.

The other storyline is of the mature Einstein, already a Nobel laureate and German treasure, who faces the rising tide of anti-Semitism. His ideas about his homeland begin to turn after the 1922 assassination of Walther Rathenau, the country’s foreign minister, who was a friend and a fellow Jew.

Now married to his second wife Elsa (Emily Watson), Einstein finally accedes to her request to move abroad. But even a decorated scientist must answer questions about his radical past. The second episode closes on a tense interview at the US Embassy in Berlin, as Einstein is asked to convince Federal Bureau of Investigation director J Edgar Hoover, who wants to sanitise America of Communists, of his leanings. Rush makes for a close likeness of Einstein, complete with the trademark mustache and the shock of fuzzy hair.

In the popular imagination, Einstein is the genius who imagined into existence complex but fully realised theories about how the universe works. But his private life, as perhaps all private lives are, was no less monumental. Genius goes behind the scenes to fashion a life that was as touched by politics, love and hubris as it was by pioneering scientific accomplishment.

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Love and Science: Genius.
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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.