“Who do you think you are? CV Raman?”

Such is the widely accepted brilliance of one of India’s leading physicists that he has inspired an affectionate insult. A documentary on the winner of the Nobel Prize for physics in 1930 begins, however, on a sombre note. “My life has been an utter failure,” says one of the actors playing the physicist in Nandan Kudhyadi’s CV Raman: The Scientist and His Legacy, produced by the National Council for Science and Technology in 1989. “I thought I would build true science in our country. All we have is a legion of camp followers of the west.”

Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman was born on November 7, 1888, and died on November 21, 1970. (He was knighted by the British government in 1929.) Raman won the Nobel Prize for Physics as early as 1930 for his study of the phenomenon of light scattering, and his findings are now called the Raman effect.

Kudhyadi’s film, which won the National Award for Best Biographical Film in 1989, uses dramatisation and interviews to explore Raman’s contributions to physics and the research that went into the Raman effect. The troubles began soon after the phenomenal success: the film claims that professional resentment, and the belief that his discovery was actually the result of fellow physicist KS Krishnan’s work, greatly upset the scientist. Raman’s appointment as the first local director of the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru in 1933, where he set up the Physics department, was also controversial. His brusque and reportedly tactless manner and his focus on physics above other disciplines did not endear him to his British colleagues.

Undeterred by the setbacks, the scientist set up the Raman Research Institute at the Indian Institute of Science. Nehruvian India wholeheartedly embraced his attempts to encourage original Indian research and discovery. National Science Day is observed on February 28 to mark the discovery of the Raman effect in 1928.