Being a teenager in India is not easy. If you are in 1980s India, far from the blessings of the internet and the IT boom, it’s even more difficult. Qaushiq Mukherjee’s (aka Q) new film Brahman Naman captures the lives of a group of teenagers in Bangalore trying to survive through the deluge of puberty.
But they are not your usual Bollywood stand-ups; they are quizzers who can wax eloquent about the Bard of Avon or anything that comes under the umbrella of knowledge. They love quizzing, boozing, and above all, fantasising about the idea of sex. Because their reality is far from the throbbing life of the sports star in college (a surprisingly easy turn by Sid Mallya) who has girls hovering around him, so our gawky boys resort to arcane trivia and droll banter as a defence mechanism.
Naman (played by Shashank Arora), the leader of the pack, the son of a Bramhin, may have a remarkable brain, but he is at the mercy of his pole, almost desperate to leave his sticky evidence everywhere, from the refrigerator to the aquarium. He even ties his Johnson to a ceiling fan to elicit pleasure.
The average Indian teenager (yes, our films only care about the male) is a repressed trooper hell-bent on unearthing the multitasking genius of his third leg, and the film follows the expected trajectory of stalking women, trips to seedy theatres, a curious voyage to the red light area, and the most essential of them all, discussing improbable conquests.
If you compare Q’s last three individual fictional forays, starting from the underground cult, Gandu (2010), Tasher Desh (2012) to Ludo (2015), Brahman Naman can easily be considered his most accomplished feat. It at least gets certain things right that were missing from his previous works.
The film keeps the period feeling intact, with the polish of colour and music. The subculture of quizzing and the geekdom comes alive, though a deviant vein of satire on casteism gets abandoned midway. The self-styled agent provocateur has shunned his tackiness for a narrative lane, perhaps meagre budgets were the undoing of his sense of aesthetics.
In simpler terms, the film is a coming-of-age comedy, but the biggest crime a comedy can commit is being unfunny. The attempt to provoke is never an issue if the gags land well, but laughs are scarce and banality is rampant. A disclaimer with a wink at the start, it does what the much-derided Indra Kumar is famous for doing in his Masti successors, only with a self-conscious intellectual smirk. Greatest Grand Masti, anyone?
Thanks to Netflix’s debut in India, the film can be seen as it was intended, surpassing the scissors of your honourable Pahlaj Nihlani. But if you really want to laugh at the anarchic insurrection of the privates, pick up Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint instead. It’s a rainy day, after all.
(The writer is a journalist and a screenwriter who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. Follow him on Twitter: @RanjibMazumder)