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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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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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.