‘Brahman Naman' Review: Enjoyably Raunchy Comedy Hits The Spot

09/07/2016 5:49 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST

It’s been a little more than a decade since I lived in an engineering college hostel in Pune, but watching Brahman Naman at a preview screening in Mumbai last week felt a bit like time travel.

This easily digestible, unabashedly raunchy sex comedy celebrates its recent direct-to-Netflix release — which, for an Indian film, especially means no encounters with any sort of censorship body — with the enthusiasm of a kid celebrating his 21st birthday. Easily the most accessible work we’ve seen from Kolkata-based avant-garde filmmaker Q (Gandu, Tasher Desh, Ludo; his real name is Qaushiq Mukherjee), Brahman Naman is a cynically nostalgic look at a specific time — the ‘80s, when Internet porn wasn’t a thing and one’s imagination was, often, all one had.

We’re taken to the not-yet-traffucked streets of Bangalore (actually shot in Mysore), before the city’s infrastructure became the most obvious victim of its ‘Silicon Valley of India’ status. Naman (Shashank Arora, from last year’s Titli), Ajay (Tanmay Dhanania), and Ramu (Chaitanya Varad) are three inseparable and decidedly obnoxious quiz nerds. Like most boys their age, they’re also desperate to lose their virginities, but only under certain conditions. With patriarchy and the caste system on their sides (they’re all reasonably fair-skinned Brahmin boys), they have the luxury of building grandiose fantasies dedicated to women who are as out of their league as Venus is to Earth.

Naman, named after the film’s writer Naman Ramachandran, is a sharp young man, the insufferably superior ringleader of his gang of losers. He reminded me of several such men I’ve known in my life — men who put unnaturally attractive women on a pedestal, while the girl next door is to be treated as some sub-human creature unworthy of even polite conversation. Naman does the same with Ash (a winsome turn from Bangalore-based comedian Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy), a junior who is inexplicably besotted with him. She’s everything he would theoretically want in a woman — smart (she helps them win the zonal quiz championship), upper-caste Hindu, pretty, and willing to sleep with him — but all Naman can see are the braces and the three, maybe four, pimples on her face.

If we’re making comparisons with American Pie (1999) — that obvious, dated throwback my generation (I’m approaching 30 at bullet-train speed) makes when discussing anything that could be classified as a ‘coming-of-age sex comedy’ — it would be tempting to think of her as the Michelle Flaherty (the ‘band camp’ girl, played wonderfully by Alyson Hannigan) of this film. But what distinguishes Brahman Naman from most Indian sex comedies, like the Masti and Kya Kool Hain Hum franchises isn’t just the language — it’s the fact that, despite being utterly from the male point-of-view, the film invests in its women and treats them as human beings.

(Yeah, I know, it’s kinda crazy that the bar is that low.)

Sure, there’s no comparison when it comes to screen-time. Much of Brahman Naman is a ‘boys will be boys’ gag reel, punctuated with some musings about the superiority of the Brahman caste (the film doesn’t propagate it; it merely uses it to show us how much of a douche Naman and his friends are). Those used to the juvenile innuendos that constitute the hypocritical universe of Indian ‘non veg’ humour will be (deservedly) scandalised by all that is shown here. While Q is nowhere near as graphic as he has been in the past, there are scenes here that depict oral sex in a car, masturbation via ceiling fan, fridge door, and goldfish in an aquarium; at one point, in deference to the era it’s set in, a soft-core porn clip from what seems like a Joginder Shelly film makes an appearance. Shot stylishly, with a liberal use of fish-eyed lenses, much of it is screamingly funny even when it seems repetitive.

But amidst all of this, there’s the comforting presence of Naina (Anula Navlekar), the charming captain of the Madras quiz team, with whom Naman falls in love at first sight. (“Why does Madras exist? As a concept?” he asks. She seems to be the movie’s answer to it.) She’s whip-smart and extremely sure of herself — too sure, actually, to be able to confidently declare in front of a group of boys she’s just met that one of them is in love with her. Naina is definitely a screenwriter’s invention, but this is neatly ironed out by Navlekar’s nuanced performance. Meanwhile, Rita (Subholina Sen), a Catholic girl Naman keeps eyeing like a piece of meat, appears mostly in underwear throughout the movie, but gets a chance to put the boy in his place. Ditto Murthy, who suffers much humiliation throughout, but just when you think it can’t get any worse, she gets a chance to deliver the movie’s most badass monologue.

Despite having nothing really new to say, Brahman Naman ends up becoming one of those effortless, if mildly forgettable, Netflix watches — the kind of movie you could watch with your college buddies on a Sunday afternoon over oily snacks and a crate of beer.

Q tells his story, which travels from Bangalore to Kolkata via an eventful train journey for a quiz championship final, in a fairly straightforward manner, punctuated only by occasional inserts of quiz questions (their answers are revealed, upside-down, in the end credits). This may seem like it’s there for effect, but it also underscores how Brahman Naman is an ode to adolescent curiosity. What does sex feel like? What would she look like naked? What happens if I have another drink? What does a cigar taste like? Naman and his friends are eloquent and evolved in terms of book-smarts, but tongue-tied disproportionately stunted when it comes to emotions and sensitivity. This film isn’t meant to be some piece of cinematic art, but merely a look at that slice of time where boyhood meets adulthood and certain lessons are learnt the hard way.

There are times the film feels a tad overwrought and the jokes don’t always land well. (“Chairs!” exclaim the boys at a bar, actually picking up their chairs and ‘clinking’ them together. I cringed a little.) The ensemble is top-notch. Arora, in territory that is far removed from his gritty debut, plays Naman as a self-loathing narcissist who can stand up to bullies like Ronnie (a blink-and-miss Sid Mallya in the most overhyped on-screen appearance ever) but crumbles when pretty women look him directly in the eye. He is fantastic, as are Dhanania and Varad as his buddies. A special mention, also, for the superb Denzil Smith, playing the boys’ alcohol-obsessed chaperone Bernie. The classic rock soundtrack, featuring Jethro Tull, Rod Stewart, and The Doors, adds momentum whenever the pace flags.

Despite having nothing really new to say, Brahman Naman ends up becoming one of those effortless, if mildly forgettable, Netflix watches — the kind of movie you could watch with your college buddies on a Sunday afternoon over oily snacks and a crate of beer.

'Brahman Naman' can be watched by anyone with a subscription to Netflix in 192 countries

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