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‘Brahman Naman’ – An ode to a rather ugly and pointless evolutionary experiment.

Brahmannaman

A raunchy sex comedy cleverly charts an adolescent trip for a nerdy trio in 80’s Bangalore.

Having opened at Sundance (and now released on Netflix) director Q’s Brahman Naman is a hilarious coming of age story. Set in Bangalore (of pre-Silicon Valley repute) we face an obnoxious quizzer threesome, full of celebral superiority, incredibly curious about sex, and grossly stupid with girls.

Naman (Shashank Arora), Ajay (Tanmay Dhanania) and Ramu (Chaitanya Varad) are inseparable and insufferable nerds. Constrained by his Brahmin upper caste upbringing, Naman considers himself a superior species, demeans his acned classfriend Ash(who is soft on him) and fancies the pretty Christian girl Rita (Subholina Sen) whose religion immediately sets her out of bounds.

Starting the day doing religious rituals with his father, Naman reaches college to smoke, drink and to sneak peek at sexy classmate’s underwear. The boys’ in-house references range from clever literary quotes (loads of Shakespeare) addressing the canteen waiter as garcon to awkward banging of chairs to cry “cheers” before libations and cigar trips.

Sounds familiar? A desi American Pie? Well in this territory we have had Indian teen sex comedies too. And numerous versions of “boys will be boys”. It’s a universal truth that geeky teens are typically sex starved and awkward in female company. But here the quiz subculture framework of the 80’s is worked with intelligent and quirky references, animation sequences and cartoon versions of Naman cursing like the Hindu god Brahman whenever he retreats to imaginary aggression.

Naman and his team sweep local laurels and head for Calcutta for the final rounds. The train journey throws them in uncharted waters i.e. close encounters of the girl kind with the Madras team travelling with their nun.

While the teachers take to drink and the train is held at a small station, Naman and Ajay get to spend time with the girls they fancy. The captain of the Madras team, Naina (Anula Navlekar) is gorgeous, razor sharp and always a step ahead of Naman, observing publicly that he is falling in love with her.

The journey to Calcutta for the quiz competition is a familiar popular memory for most who have grown up in that part of the world in those times. The famed quiz rounds at Medical College, St. Xavier’s and Saturday Club, the legendary quizmasters Siddharth Bose and Barry o’Brien.

In the film it is Dalhousie Club, alcohol on the house and the quizmaster rigging the contest in favour of the Calcutta group. What is worse, just as Naman declares his romantic intentions to her, Naina departs on another train with her father.

Defeated at quiz and love Naman returns to Bangalore. Long phone conversations with Rita serve as sexual fantasies, imagining the girl in little or no attire. Leading Ash on and humiliating her seems Naman’s juvenile act of vengeance. But finally Ash gets to speak her mind and bags the longest monologue in the film.

She calls him a loser and walks off with Randy, the new member of the team.

Director Q pulls back his full on loaded style and offers a more observant feel to the narrative. This is certainly more accessible after the underground reputation of Gandu and the symbolic Tagore inspired Land of Cards.

However middle class sensibilities must be warned against attempted masturbation in a fridge, with a ceiling fan, a goldfish aquarium and a pin up poster. Bare all sexual jokes, some corny, will thankfully not be slashed by the censor board, now that the film has a digital release on Netflix.

Our very own London scribe Naman Ramchandran writes the script and the protagonist is named after him. Legendary quizzer himself, he harks back to growing up years in Bangalore, the script cleverly exposing religion, caste, class prejudice and the chauvinism which shapes the quiz nerds and their world.

It takes us to a world before technical gadgets and internet porn, where cartoons, comic books and real life experiments fired your imagination. It brings us precariously close to misogyny but then the women always triumph. It is gross in its male gaze and assumptions, but curiously goes beyond it. Naman is dismissed as ugly in mind and body, yet we care for him, his triumphs, falls, naivete, curiosity and lack of courage.

The cast impress collectively.

Shashank Arora’s Naman fights odd body language and unflattering camera angles to distil quiz arrogance and real life ignorance. His glass wearing friends, Dhanania’s Ajay and Varad’s Ramu offer excellent support as does Shankar’s Randy as the new team addition. The girls enjoy less screen time but Murthy’s Ash, Nevalkar’s Naina and Sen’s Rita all impress and evolve in their respective spaces.

This coming of age story is not a new one and yes, this indie-comedy is a studied nod to classic sex comedies. The narrative however has intelligence, irony, humour and empathy. This is a first for the quizzer tribe of the 80’s, indeed quizzers of all ages, with their arrogance, in-jokes, trivia, funda and juvenile jokes.

When the pace slackens the nostalgia rock soundtrack kicks in with Jethro Tull and Rod Stewart . Someone gets a blowjob in a Maruti 800. Bangalore looks green. The boys’ journey is intercepted with quiz questions, answered in reverse in the end-credits.

The alcohol and smoke filled adolescent world (supported by teachers and senior boys) is all about denying the real and desiring the unattainable.

At the end Naman’s biggest ego–prop, the quiz competition lets him down. The team is expelled because of prohibitive alcohol bills kicked up in Calcutta. So the bubble bursts as they step towards adulthood.

Tellingly the film opens with an obit to that stage of adolescence, its awkwardness, its hormonal desperation and its total pointlessness.

“All said and done, the young male, anywhere in the world, is a rather ugly and pointless evolutionary experiment.”

‘Brahman Naman’ receives its big-screen English premier at the London Indian Film Festival.  For full listings, visit www.londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk

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