Brahman Naman: Prepubescent Tomfoolery
Brahman Naman is proof (once again) that Q the film maker cares little about meeting the audience in the middle
Dhruba Basu Delhi
Brahman Naman has been described by some as a coming-of-age comedy, ostensibly about a group of male college quizzers in 1980s India, consisting of titular character Naman and his buddies. They speak convoluted, quote-laden private school English, rake in prize money with little effort and unquestioningly spend it on vast quantities of alcohol, all the while relentlessly fantasising about women and losing their virginity.
It will be argued that the way these young men have been characterised should be understood as a satire targeting the sexual repression that pervades Indian social structures and the kind of masculine mindset it produces. Perhaps it will be contended that the continuous references to the imperatives of Brahminism by the group not only lampoon the caste system in a general sense but also highlight, in collaboration with the quizzing theme, how ironic it is that the caste historically and self-appointedly in charge of the province of knowledge has in fact produced bigots, popinjays, hypocrites and misfits.
However, such perspectives, some of which even seem to view Brahman Naman as a promise of Indian Pie franchises to come, would end up ignoring the fact that the film’s rapid degeneration into a series of ass, cleavage, and foam-on-nudie-mag shots, and increasingly bizarre scenes featuring dry humping sessions in public and bizarre masturbation experiments in private (like sticking one’s penis in fridges and aquariums), each drawn out well beyond ordinary limits of viewing tolerance, translate into something that is based not so much on a script as a simpleton’s idea of shock. It seems to have been conceived by college kids on a mission to top each others’ inane displays of drunkenness on a night they are destined not to recall, with the result that none of it is relevant or interesting to anyone who is not on their wavelength.
The only thing the film achieves is to ignite a fervent hope that no one is ever on that wavelength.
The dialogue, meant to reflect how insufferable quizzers are, becomes exhausting almost as soon as it begins; big words, long sentences and references to mostly uninteresting trivia do not on their own strength a comedy make. The inclusion of a group of women in the quizzing circuit, which according to quizzers is itself a departure from reality, serves only to provide Naman and Fiends something to fantasise about; despite matching the boys wit-for-wit and factoid-for-factoid on the train journey they share to Calcutta, they do not end up posing a threat in the actual quiz that follows. Arbitrary and unchallenging questions about Christopher Columbus’ nationality and a publishing house established in 1908 that dominates its genre (Mills & Boon) do not contribute to the veracity of this universe. The interactions between the quizzers and the sports-and-party clique led by Sid Mallya’s character, both in college and at a party thrown by the latter, add up to a jock-vs-nerd encounter so basic, predictable and inane that it almost constitutes an argument to do away with the trope altogether.
However, such perspectives, some of which even seem to view Brahman Naman as a promise of Indian Pie franchises to come, would end up ignoring the fact that the film’s rapid degeneration into a series of ass, cleavage, and foam-on-nudie-mag shots, and increasingly bizarre scenes featuring dry humping sessions in public and bizarre masturbation experiments in private
Director Qaushiq Mukherjee, who likes to go by the nickname ‘Q’, has made a name for himself as a peddler of the outre after films like Gandu, Tasher Desh and Love in India. All three were received with mild applause at film fest due to their engagement with and treatment of themes not very common in Indian cinema, which largely take shape as explicit and surreal depictions of drug use and sexual fetishes. The director himself has described his aesthetic as ‘punk’ and ‘freestyle cinema’ and does not deny that his intention is to shock, to draw attention to content that otherwise does not make its way in this country to the widescreen.
While all of it sounds very cutting-edge and one cannot begrudge Q a modicum of respect for his commitment to pushing boundaries and flipping his finger at the CBFC, Brahman Naman is proof of what can go horribly wrong with a brand of filmmaking that privileges style to the absolute negation of substance. The film is an ordeal that forces the viewer to wade for two hours through the minds of perverted idiots and gives nothing in return, neither authenticity in recreating a subculture, nor humour, inventiveness or cohesion in the frustrations, disappointments and embarrassments of a group of pre-liberalisation Brahmin nerds. What it boils down to is truly abominable writing, and if Q is as disgruntled with the state of Bollywood cinema as he claims, it should be a cardinal sin for him to promote in his films the same complacency in constructing realistic and thought-provoking narratives that has held India’s largest film industry back.