There’s always that one point in a movie that gets you hooked. Through the one hour and thirty five minutes of Brahman Naman, I waited for that point. The movie, recently released on Netflix, was directed by Q (whose filmography includes the controversial Gandu and Tasher Desh) and is touted as “a sex comedy with a conscience,” somewhat indulgently.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love it when independent cinema flips the bird at contrived and tiresome Bollywood tropes. It’s also exciting to think of the potential of a relatively uncensored Netflix in a country with archaic notions of censorship — milk this filmmakers, milk this!
Sadly, Brahman Naman just doesn’t hit the sweet spot. It does what it has to, rolls off and falls asleep with a self-satisfied grin.
Sure, it gets a lot of things right. The movie revels in the nostalgic confines of 80s Bangalore, following the antics of its gangly protagonist Naman (Shashank Arora) and his bespectacled sidekicks Ajay (Tanmay Dhanania) and Raju as they drink, quiz, gloat and obsess over sex. The soundtrack of the movie is wonderfully replete with all the Jethro Tull and Rod Stewart that 80s kids lovingly collected cassettes of and the devices, the animated Brahman rage sequences and quiz bits, are fantastic.
There are some neat performances too. Charismatic Arora plays the detestable Naman with tight-lipped, often goofy flourish, Vaishwath Sankar’s Randy is immediately endearing, Dhanania plays Ajay with hilarious intensity, and Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy is perfect as the persistent Ash who ultimately serves as Naman’s foil.
The quizzing portions of the movie are well done and stay true to Bangalore’s quiz-obsessed DNA. Writer Naman was a quizzer himself and doesn’t hesitate to paint these boys in all their pretentious, off-putting glory. “A beaker full of the warm south for the lad here,” Naman yells after a silly initiation ritual sequence. Do people actually talk like this? A friend who was part of Bangalore’s quiz set affirms they do. “They have memorised Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol’s Wikipedia page and think this makes them the perfect meeting point between science and art.” Still it seems jarring to hear carefully enunciated, Victorian English dialogue in a movie.
Cringe-worthy moments in the film sometimes have their place (banging chairs before drinking and yelling “Chairs!” makes sense; we were all dumbasses in college) but most times, they seem forced and pointless. The boys try to guess the colour of a popular girl’s underwear while the camera uncomfortably focuses up her skirt. They proclaim “cover the face, fire the base,” when confronted with the dilemma of having sex with less attractive girls. We get ass shots, close shots of schoolgirls’ legs, the camera hovering at the skirt of an unconscious girl and then, a mighty subversion of the male gaze—a prosthetic penis in an aquarium and few penis photos.
Actor Shashank Arora, when asked if he thinks the film is sexist, agrees, “It is, but that’s because it depicts the reality of life.” Brahman Naman sets out with that intention, but loses a whole lot in execution. How is the movie revealing anything new by merely reiterating the problem? Is the so-called conscience the movie just the fact that the boys don’t end up getting the girls? There isn’t comeuppance or payback in the least and the attempt to show Naman’s repentance is trite at best. While Naina and Ash are interesting characters and it is heartening to see them lay it down straight for Naman (a Brahman fundamentalist, alcoholic and sexist), the movie just seems to reinforce sexism while revealing nothing new about it.