I grew up in a (then) small town, in a girls-only convent school. We were categorically instructed that your skirt should be up-to your knees and that you should stay away from boys, for they are evil. Scrawny boys, gaping open-mouthed from a distance did not do much to dispel the moral implications of these debilitative teachings. Work and education have thankfully taken me places afterwards, but we still have not collectively escaped the creepy ogling from groups of boys.
Hence, the tell-tale scene of three gawky boys leering, albeit harmlessly, at Rita, the epicurean male fantasy in Q’s new coming-of-age sex comedy, Brahman Naman, struck a chord.
Set in mid-80s Bengaluru (then Bangalore), the film narrates the story of Naman, the quintessential patriarch in the making - a Brahmin boy (played superbly, diction et al, by Shashank Arora) who leads the college quiz team, spews Shakespeare, talks down to anyone who he does not consider an equal, and cannot stop fantasizing about sex.
The narrative – and for starters a film by Q has one – unfolds through a deluge of cheap greasy bars, lewd jokes and the intense sense of sexual desperation that boys in our country grow up with. Naman, who is also the writer Naman Ramachandran’s namesake, basks in his geek-dom and the inherited middle class puritanism; his vivid imagination cannot stop obsessing about Rita, played by Subholina Sen, all resplendent in her lacy lingerie and lusty feather décor. However when it comes to meeting her in person, he does not have one shred of courage.
Life goes on as Naman continues quizzing, drinking copiously (funded by his quizzing money) and bonding with fellow-quizzers Ajay (Tanmany Dhanania) and Ramu (Chaitanya Varad) over grossly inappropriate sexist humour and bad porn, all the while exploring the boundaries of self-pleasuring techniques through various innovative and often adventurous experiments.
Halfway through the film, the boys set on their ‘life-affirming’ quizzing journey to Calcutta, and while at it, the boys meet their match in a quizzing team from Chennai. The girls — epitomised in Naina, played quite convincingly by Anula Navlekar who leads the girls’ team — not only do they match the boys in knowledge, wit and drinking, but also in the casteist hypocrisies that govern their everyday lives.
The journey while being revelatory and simultaneously disappointing on several counts, adds but another chapter to the story. Several sub-plots unfold on this epic-but-otherwise-not-very-life-changing trip, and several others that you were expecting actually don’t. Then again, Q is known for his subversive storytelling.
The reference to this ‘life-affirming’ journey would not be complete without a mention of Denzil Smith. While this would perhaps not be the right platform to fawn over his lucid, sonorous voice, he delights in every frame, challenging and upping the game for the boys throughout.
While not being implicitly memorable for its story, Brahman Naman sets out to hold up a mirror to the double standards we’ve grown so comfortable living with. When not brimming (and sometimes spilling over) with crude and grubby jokes, the humour is dark and disparagingly clever - the skewed camera angles adding to the societal inappropriateness of situations. The screenplay is fantastic though, and quite refreshing in its form. Pertinent milestones in the film are marked by pertinent questions from the quizzing universe, which if you are unaware of, might require quite a bit of brain-wracking. Narrative breaks, like when Naman unleashes his brahminical wrath depicted through satirical cartoon animations, were amongst my personal favourites. The music, by Neel Adikari, true to its time in the movie has a colonial hangover.
In the grand scheme of things, Brahman Naman does not culminate into this karmic narrative that adult (what sex?) comedies in our country tend to fall trope to. In a country where films like Kya Kool Hai Hum (and there are 3 of them mind you) and Mastizaade benchmark sex comedies, it is refreshing to have a Brahman Naman.
The very fact that the boys continue to remain and exhibit their crushingly sexist tendencies without so much as a thought, their entitled overtures of male debauchery are telling signs of how repressive our culture, mainstream or otherwise, is, when it comes to sexuality. Brahman Naman tries to take this coming-of-age drama to a whole new level of societal commentary.
Subtle referencing of classist and sexist atrocities are brilliantly woven into the story-telling, like Naman’s father (who owns a mattress manufacturing factory, very Q-riously named “Rubber On”), while discussing his son's future (and rebuking his drinking habits) seamlessly instructs the mother to make tea. For a regular cine-goer like me, who is driven up the wall with watching Salman Khan jumping from trains, these references were what made the film appealing.
However, therein also lies my key concern: while Q’s characteristic treatment manages to shock, the other layers might be a little too subtle to actually stand out and make a point to the very audience that it had started out by critiquing. We might be a little too set in our ways to actually look beyond sharing a guilty laugh at the grossness.
Belonging to a generation that grew up at the brink of the internet, where conversations about sexuality are either taboo-ed or overtly misguided, it is very invigorating to see that contemporary filmmakers are opening up conversations in popular culture that go beyond the commercial concerns, and are urging people to think.
And while ‘popular culture’ and Q mentioned in the same statement might be a little bit of a misnomer, the changing face of the communications and distribution have allowed me this small leverage.
In another feat of its own, Brahman Naman also happens to be releasing as a Netflix original on 7 July, which in-turn, opens up a whole new conversation about censorship. And to have actually subverted the devious, bureaucratic mechanisms of control that so often govern how and what we are allowed to watch, Q and his team, kudos! Perhaps, your influence, however subtle or shock-worthy, will actually goad a generation into “Bhaba practice” (practicing thinking), as it has often done with me!