Home >opinion >Brahman Naman: a sex comedy worth watching finally?

Sid Mallya. Sex comedy. No, I’m not hallucinating, this is what I encountered yesterday when I sat down to watch Brahman Naman, which is the latest in the onslaught of sex comedies that have come upon us in India. Brahman Naman, the new sex comedy by Quashiq Mukherjee, was released on Netflix yesterday. Q—as Quashiq seemingly prefers to be called—is most famous for his film Gandu, which broke ground not just with the name of the film, but also thanks to the graphic sex scenes featuring his girlfriend who acted in the film. Which is why I was prepared for pretty much anything. Or so I thought. Till I saw Sid Mallya’s name pop up in the credits of the cast.

Now, even before Brahman Naman was released on Netflix, I’d been intrigued by the cast on the promotional material for the film. They were geeky, far from good looking, young Indian boys who looked like they’d never encountered a woman who wasn’t related to them. They looked as removed from the actors and stars we see on screen, as possible.

The film is about three young men who are quizzers, Naman (Shashank Arora), Ajay (Tanmay Dhanania) and Ramu (Chaitanya Varad), who walks on crutches. They looked and behaved a lot like the quizzers I’d grown up alongside in Calcutta. Bright, sexually repressed, relatively harmless. These boys aren’t losers in the traditional sense—because they are very bright and are successful quizzers representing their state in national quizzes. Like all good quizzers and college boys (and nerds) trying to be cool, they drink rum and coke and smoke cigars—but only the ones smoked by Sherlock Holmes. Their normal conversation is full of trivia. And in their own words they have a “slavish deference" and an “obsequiousness to god". When they want to go for a drink, they say they’re off to indulge in “alcoholic libations at the dhaba".

They are cocky and dismissive but only with juniors and people from the quizzing milieu. When it comes to women, they have no inkling how to speak or interact with them. They call the waiter at a dhaba, “garcon". And since they’re sitting in Bangalore in the Eighties, there is an accepted and in-built classism and casteism. They make statements such as “Brahmins must be magnanimous to the servants so that the natural order is maintained". Another says that if even an untouchable’s shadow falls on his grandfather, his grandfather has to have a bath. All these statements are made without irony.

The film is about these socially inept boys coming of age and their quest to lose their virginity. Keeping to form, Q begins the film with a scene of Naman masturbating using a fridge, this is followed by an encounter with the aquarium and even the ceiling fan. It’s all very educational. We also learn sex work terms such as “lollipop" and “mouthwash".

The boys are part of the quizzing team of their college and Sid Mallya is the jock in school who wins all the sports prizes and gets all the girls. Mallya is basically playing himself, he’s a rich, pretty daddy’s boy who speaks good English, dresses well, and thinks he’s the cat’s whiskers and lives in a mansion. But to give him credit, he does act convincingly. It’s in interactions with him that the frustration of the nerd can be seen—that they may be as intelligent as Stephen Hawking, but the one thing they want, which is women, is an unattainable goal. The jocks drive home the point, by referring to the three boys as “those quiz fucks". The boys think they’re too smart for their own good, and are quite unfeeling and horrible to others. But there’s still an endearing bumbling quality to them.

There are some choice statements like, “God is in the areola" while they look at a nude poster. Or when they run away from a red light area and are walking through the market, they say, “Right now we could have been between the thighs of whores, losing our virginity. And here we are trading electoral trivia". It’s the banter of the intelligent, though socially awkward.

The film takes a turn when the boys travel to Calcutta (the film is set in the eighties before we changed the names back to what our forefathers wanted us to call these cities) to participate in a national quiz. And there’s much to love if you’ve grown up in the Calcutta of the eighties and nineties with Neil and Barry O’Brien conducting quizzes at Dalhousie Club, where rum and beer flowed, and not one quizzer seemed to be the worse for wear. In their stead, you have Brian D’Costa as the quiz master and the very attractive, sleeveless-bloused chiffon-sareed Kitty Chatterjee keeping score. And Cornwallis Club—which looks a lot like a hybrid of Dalhousie and Saturday Club.

The questions asked will be equivalent to a wet dream for quizzers. Even the chapter breaks in the film are marked by quiz questions such as—In which 1949 landmark of feminist cinema did Simone De Beauvoir quote Greek dramatist Menander’s infamous line, “woman is a pain that never goes away?". And if you wait till the credits finish, you’ll get the answer. When one of the boys stubs out a cigar, he’s told that he’s Done A George and asked what that means. Watch the film and you’ll find out.

What’s wonderful is the attention to detail—whether it be the characters of the boys’ parents in Bangalore, the strict Brahmin father who has a mattress business called Rubber On, which he expects Naman to take over. Or Ajay’s father, who is very propah and utterly dismissive of all the boys, especially Naman. Or the genuinely nice and bright girl who wants to be friends with the trio, especially Naman, and hangs around despite being treated horribly by him. Biswa Kalyan Rath of Pretentious Movie Reviews plays a student who pretends he’s always getting laid, but quite obviously is simply making it all up. The speech, mannerisms, clothes and anecdotes all seem spot on.

I was especially impressed with the music, which has some of the numbers we’ve grown to associate with our growing up years. The songs range from Show Me The Way To The Next Whiskey Bar to Infatuation to I’m Henry The Eighth I am to Hemanta Mukherjee’s Ei Raat Tomaar Aamar and E Aamar Guru Dakshina which was composed by Bappi Lahiri no less and sung by Kishore Kumar.

This may well be the first sex comedy worth a watch, out of India. You do see Naman’s penis close up, and what is supposed to be Sid Mallya’s penis and bum, but that aside the film is a visual delight because of the intricacies you notice—in set design, outfits, haircuts, posters. Now that you know what visual onslaught to brace yourself for, I’d recommend you watch the film. Especially if you were a quizzer in the Eighties and Nineties.

You can watch Brahman Naman on Netflix India.

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