“Oh, for a bit of Labour in these Tory times!” Naman chortles, waving his fist above his hook nose.
His invocation of over-stuffed British sensibilities while debating flicking a sleeping girl’s skirt to take a picture is the exact concoction of pointed references, upper-class angst, and sex mania that Brahman Naman is about. This new Netflix exclusive film, in the anglophonic style of Monsoon Wedding, has all the trappings of a movie intended to regale a Western audience while silently nudging Indian viewers in the side.
Set in South India in the 1980s, Brahman Naman is about a quiz team at Bangalore University preparing for a tourney in Calcutta. While they sit high above their other classmates, wantonly throwing down layered, arcane insults from their heavily inebriated towers of self-hatred, they lust after every local babe.
The film slowly unfurls itself with music video-style animation, Rod Stewart sing-alongs and drinking in the bathroom stall. It feels like a grab at an American audience quick to neuter the Indian man into something bite-size — a sex-crazed, tiny-bodied nerd. Maybe, you think, it’s a reference to Revenge of the Nerds or maybe it’s going somewhere. Both, is the answer to your question.
The most entertaining bits of the film, besides the title-character Naman’s self-congratulatory jabs at lower-minded people around him, are his attempts at masturbation. Fish tanks, fridges and one ceiling fan are all stand-ins for a warm body. Even when presented with three women, all at least somewhat willing, Naman runs away. For all his leg-humping and pornographic fixations, Naman is “feckless.” He is unable and unwilling to act on his desires but the anger at being celibate rolls off him like dry heat.
When stuck on a train with a competing team of quizzers, all women, Naman and his entourage of equally useless young men are uncertain. They try and fail to make time with these girls. Naman has a drink with his counterpart Naina, but when he asks what will happen to them she responds “Just because a girl spends time with you on equal terms doesn’t qualify for an ‘us.’”
He is rebuffed and his pained smile grows stiffer. Things are easier in his head. His ability is stronger in abstract.
But don’t feel sorry for him. Throughout his story, Naman is selfish and terrible. He hurts the people around him, mistreats and uses them cruelly, thinking that he can because he is, after all, the quiz team captain. The lack of a substantial redemption arc, especially after he abuses his one and only female fan, is refreshing. This sex comedy is a South Indian Superbad only everyone gets what they deserve.
Watch it now on Netflix.