‘Brahman Naman’: Sundance Review
Indian director Qaushiq Mukherjee’s period comedy premiered in the festival’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition.
The 1980s in southern India receive affectionate reimagining in Brahman Naman, a coming-of-age-comedy about sex-obsessed college students and their quest to lose their virginity. The familiarity of this often reworked subgenre will prove an asset for promoting the feature, which is best suited to an adventurous distributor prepared to maximize the film’s numerous multicultural elements.
The title refers to upper-caste college student Naman (Shashank Arora), whose father owns a mattress-manufacturing facility that he intends to pass on to his son after his retirement. When it comes to quiz competitions at Bangalore University, there’s no better team than Naman’s, which he captains with the support of cohorts Ajay (Tanmay Dhanania) and Ramu (Chaitanya Varad). The trio’s undisputed supremacy owes as much to a plentiful supply of beer, whiskey and cigars as it does to a nerdy devotion to random facts both academic and trivial. The only preoccupation that receives more attention than quizzing and drinking is sex – thinking, talking and joking about it, as opposed to actually indulging in anything other than autoeroticism.
Naman in particular has developed innovative methods of self-pleasuring, some of which involve fresh fruit or pet fish. The specific object of his obsession is neighborhood hottie Rita (Subholina Sen), the source of his frequent, elaborate fantasies. With their quiz-competition winnings, the boys liberally indulge their devotion to booze and porn, but really hit the jackpot when they earn a spot representing Bangalore University at the national championships in Calcutta.
The minimally chaperoned overnight train trip offers the opportunity to revel in their favorite hobbies, along with the chance to intermingle with the all-female quiz champions from Madras, who represent a real threat both strategically and emotionally, after Naman falls hard for team captain Naina (Anula Shirish Navlekar). Smart, pretty and unimpressed by his command of facts and trivia, she’s as close to an equal as he’s ever encountered and as close to love as he’s ever approached. With the prospect of facing off against the Madras beauties piled on top of their determination to defeat the archrival Calcutta team, the Bangalore boys are facing unexpected challenges to achieve quiz-contest domination.
Based in the film production hub of Calcutta, independent writer-director-producer Qaushiq Mukherjee, known as “Q,” gained international attention with his 2010 shock-inducing Berlinale entry Gandu. Brahman Naman is a far more laidback affair, with a trajectory more in common with low-budget sex comedies. Naman Ramachandran’s English-language script reworks that formula by drawing on his own university experience and integrating the quiz-competition milieu, which provides an appropriate setting where nerdy virgins can test their personal and social limitations. Several voyeuristic scenes come off as gratuitously pervy, however, failing to deliver a more nuanced payoff.
The cast’s performances adhere to appropriately exaggerated comedic expectations, but could have benefitted from more specific character differentiation. Q’s fanciful visual style emphasizes the humor inherent in the student trio’s awkward social interactions, while bursts of animation and elaborate fantasy sequences illustrate Naman’s overactive, sexually frustrated imagination.
Production companies: Riley Productions, Corniche Pictures, Oddjoint
Cast: Shashank Arora, Tanmay Dhanania, Chaitanya Varad, Subholina Sen, Vaishwath Shankar, Sid Mallya, Anula Shirish Navlekar
Screenwriter: Naman Ramachandran
Producers: Steve Barron, Celine Loop
Executive producers: Hani Farsi, John Herbert, Jeremy Gawade
Director of photography: Siddhartha Nuni
Production designer: Tabasheer Zutshi
Editor: Manas Mittal
Music: Neel Adhikari, Miti Adhikari
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema Dramatic Competition)
Not rated, 94 minutes