Sundance Film Review: ‘Brahman Naman’

Western teen sex comedies of the 1980s are recalled to diverting effect in this U.K.-India co-production.

Brahman Naman Sundance 2016
Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The film’s screenwriter and executive producer, Naman Ramachandran, is a London-based contributor to Variety.)

Given a bigger budget than usual, indie Indian helmer Q. makes his most polished and commercially angled feature to date with “Brahman Naman.” This equivalent to 1980s Western teen sex comedies (also set in that era) follows a quartet of Brahmin nerds on a Bangalore U. quiz team whose alcohol-soaked mission is to lose their collective virginity. Containing a dollop of class critique, this diverting if seldom hilarious comedy could have used a few bigger set-piece gags a la “Porky’s” and its ilk, though no doubt there’s enough here already to trouble local censors. Offshore prospects beyond the fest circuit are likely to prove most fruitful among cult-audience-targeting home format distribs.

Bossy and arrogant in his narrow social circle of similar brainiacs, Naman (Shashank Arora) routinely leads his school to victory on the collegiate quiz competition circuit of the mid-’80s. But there’s only one subject he and mates Ajay (Tanmay Dhanania) and Ramu (Chaitanya Varad) seem really interested in, and of which they as yet have no personal experience. When not fantasizing about theoretical conquests — notably Rita (Subholina Sen), a beauteous lower-caste local girl whom Naman can’t bring himself to talk to — they spend most of their time seeking inebriation with Brecht-Weill’s “Whisky Bar,” aka “Alabama Song,” as musical theme.

Eventually, accompanied by new junior-classman teammate Randy (Vaiswath Shankar) and a none-too-responsible adult chaperone (Denzil Smith), they take the train to a nationwide quiz championship in Calcutta. En route, Naman meets his intellectual match in pretty Madras girls’ team leader Naina (Anula Shirish Navlekar). But there are some disappointments and injustices that bring this largely frivolous tale to a sobered conclusion, particularly regarding Naman’s ill treatment of adoring Ash (Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy), a fellow student who doesn’t fit his skin-mag-shaped notions of female perfection.

The mild lessons learned by the end about sexism, class prejudice and simple civility don’t carry a lot of weight here — after all, the central protag’s adult path (as heir to a specialty mattress factory) seems preordained. More of the wild energy Q. expanded on scabrous prior projects like “Gandu” could have been useful here, though “Brahman Naman” (whose somewhat autobiographical script was written by Naman Ramachandran, a journalist and critic who’s a regular contributor to Variety) does represent a step forward for Q. in terms of narrative structure — something he barely seemed mindful of in prior pics where he was a sole or co-scenarist. Overall, the mix of medium-grade raunchy humor and middleweight drama works fairly well, albeit with few real highlights. In the great tradition of teen sex comedies, however, the funniest gags here are (what else but) masturbation jokes.

The young cast is spirited and the packaging lively, from Q.’s own vigorous lensing (shared with Siddhartha Nuni) to a busy soundtrack whose various-artist cuts reflect the exclusively English-speaking, privileged protagonists’ almost entirely Westernized tastes.

Sundance Film Review: ‘Brahman Naman’

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema — competing), Jan. 25, 2016. Running time: <strong>95 MIN.</strong>

  • Production: (U.K.-India) A Riley presentation in association with Comiche of an Oddjoint production. (International sales: UTA, Beverly Hills.) Produced by Steve Barron, Celine Loop. Executive producers, John Herbert, Hani Farsi, Naman Ramachandran, Jeremy Gawade, Erica Emm, Debbie Vandermeulen. Co-producer, Alex Dunnett.
  • Crew: Directed by Q. Screenplay, Naman Ramachandran. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Siddhartha Nuni, Q.; editor, Manas Mittal; music, Neel Adhikari, Miti Adhikari; music supervisor, Iain Cooke; production designer, Tabasheer Zutshi; art director, Krishna; set decorator, Tabasheer Zutshi; costume designer, Ritarupa Bhattacharjee; animation, Xtrathin Design, Karthik Ramachandran; sound/sound designer, Tarun Bhandari; re-recording mixer, Stefan Marchetti; assistant director, Indu Antony; casting, Rii, Pooje Hegde, Nalini Rathnam.
  • With: Shashank Arora, Tanmay Dhanania, Chaitanya Varad, Vaiswath Shankar, Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy, Subholina Sen, Anula Shirish Navlekar, Siddharth Mallya, Sid Mallya, Denzil Smith, Biswa Kalyan Rath, Shataf Figar. (English dialogue)