Netflix UK film review: Brahman Naman
Matthew Turner | On 04, Jul 2016Reading time: 3 mins
Director: Q (Qaushiq Mukherjee)
Cast: Shashank Arora, Tanmay Dhanania, Chaitanya Varad
Watch Brahman Naman online in the UK: Thursday 7th July
Read our interview with director Q here.
Proof, if proof were needed, that the trials and tribulations of nerds attempting to lose their virginity are translatable to any culture, this enjoyable Indian teen sex comedy is clear about its various Western influences (American Pie, Porky’s, Portnoy’s Complaint and The Inbetweeners among others), but emerges as very much its own thing, thanks to an astute script and the quirky comic rhythms of Q’s (Qaushiq Mukherjee) direction.
Scripted (with English language dialogue) by London-based journalist and critic Naman Ramachandran, the film is set in 1980s Bangalore and centres on geeky student Naman (Arora), whose life is governed by twin obsessions: losing his virginity and leading his Bangalore University quiz team – including equally nerdy best friends Ajay (Dhanania) and Ramu (Varad) – to victory. Smitten by, yet unable to talk to, local lower caste beauty, Rita (Subholina Sen), Naman’s pitiful love-life consists purely of epic and inventive bouts of self-abuse, until his team heads to Calcutta for the national quiz championships and he meets his intellectual match in Naina (Anula Shirish Navlekar), the sparky leader of the Madras girls’ team.
Shashank Arora delivers an intriguing central performance as Naman, not least because he’s often arrogant, dismissive and intellectually superior (if this were a Wes Anderson movie, he’d be played by Jason Schwartzman), yet manages to retain audience sympathy through his general ineptness (his funniest moments involve his panicked anonymous phone calls to Rita). Arora generates appealing comic chemistry with cohorts Dhanania and Varad, with their back-and-forth intellectual, quiz-based banter achieving a comic rhythm that feels distinctive and original.
There’s strong support from Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy, whose smitten fellow quiz enthusiast, Ash, emerges as the film’s most likeable character, something that’s complicated by the appalling treatment she receives at the hands of the central trio. However, it’s this development that gives the film its edge, with both Q and Ramachandran mixing in a pointed critique of the caste system alongside the more traditional teen romance elements.
Ramachandran’s witty and semi-autobiographical script is packed with character-based humour, particularly the way in which the three friends take the mickey out of each other (cf. The Inbetweeners). Similarly, Q pulls off some very funny, boundary-pushing masturbation gags, involving, variously, a fridge, an electric fan and a fish tank – don’t try these at home, kids – that you can imagine the producers of American Pie looking at and wondering what they’ve done.
The film is heightened by its lovingly detailed 1980s production design, all bright colours and terrible-looking clothes, as well as an appropriately nostalgia-inducing soundtrack that makes particularly strong use of The Doors’ version of Alabama Song (Whisky Bar). On top of that, there are a number of nice touches, such as the quiz questions scattered throughout the film on caption cards, with the answers printed upside down on the credits at the end.
Brahman Naman is an enjoyably raunchy and frequently funny teen sex comedy, whose original and distinctive setting offers a refreshingly different perspective on the genre.
Brahman Naman is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. The film will also be showcased as part of the London Indian Film Festival, from 14th to 24th July 2016.