India

Why an Indian sex comedy on quiz geeks is making waves

Brahman Naman
Image caption Brahman Naman is about four college going quiz geeks growing up in 1980s India

A wacky Indian sex comedy about four college-going quiz geeks and their unbridled fantasies has made audiences sit up and have a good laugh.

Brahman Naman, an English-language film directed by Kolkata-based filmmaker Q and streamed exclusively on Netflix, has been declared a hit on many counts.

It's co-produced by Emmy award winner and Grammy-nominated Steve Barron of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame. The film has been written by London-based Indian journalist, Naman Ramachandran.

Barron had watched Q's earlier Bengali works: the controversial and edgy Gandu (Loser) and the trippy Tasher Desh (Land of Cards), described as "Tagore on acid".

'Raunchy comedy'

Now critics in India have woken up to the charms of Brahman Naman.

One called Netflix's first Indian film a "perverted American Pie"; another said it was an "enjoyable raunchy comedy that hit the spot". Variety magazine said the film's "mix of medium-grade raunchy humour and middleweight drama works fairly well", and in the "great tradition of teen sex comedies, however, the funniest gags here are (what else but) masturbation jokes".

But Brahman Naman is more than that.

Set in the city of Bangalore in the 1980s, the film's success lies in its authentic depiction of upper caste orthodox Brahmins in south India and the repressive social milieu that made it impossible to seek sex and company as a healthy rite of passage to adult life.

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Media captionBrahman Naman tells the story of three nerdy teenagers determined to lose their virginity
Image caption The 95-minute independent film breaks many traditional Bollywood formulas

Given its rather explicit content and the nature of censorship of Indian films, the producers released it at the Wold Cinema Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The film got its global release on Netflix earlier this month.

"Brahman Naman is Indian cinema at its boldest: fast, furious and raucously funny," a Netflix representative says.

'Peddling trivia'

The 95-minute independent film breaks many traditional - and trite - Bollywood formulas.

For one, the film is in English with local south Indian phrases thrown in.

The four main characters are bumbling and awkward, chasing outrageous sexual fantasies, compared to the popular macho Bollywood heroes.

Naman, the lead character, is the leader of a quiz team, who hatches gross plans to approach the girl he fancies and fumbles badly.

In a moment of self-realisation, he says all he and his friends can peddle are "trivia".

The female characters are no pretty Bollywood faces singing and dancing around trees, but smart, sassy and much more self-aware than the men.

Image caption The quiz geeks chase outrageous fantasies in the film

Naina, a woman quizzer from Chennai, whom Naman, puffed up with caste and class arrogance, develops a crush on, tells him: "It's a funny thing about knowledge; it's been known for more than one person to have it."

The music score is not standard Bollywood ditties, but rock music popular with English-educated Indian youngsters in the 1980s - Jethro Tull, The Doors and Rod Stewart.

The 22-day filming took place not in Bollywood's favourite European or American cities, but in the temple town of Mysore, and its quiet neighbourhoods in south India.

The film has received attention for shining a light on the nerdy fraternity of young Indian quiz geeks.

Writer Samanth Subramanian, co-founder of a quiz team, says: "What [script-writer] Ramachandran nails are the quizzers themselves: their psyches, particularly in the ripe swell of youth, and the social habitats from which they emerge."

Male gaze

The film is based in the two cities that were a hotbed for quizzing in India - Bangalore and Kolkata. There are caricatures of well-known Indian quiz masters of the 1980s.

The script writer, Naman Ramachandran, himself was a quiz enthusiast in the 1980s Bangalore.

"While parts of the story may be informed by some incidents in my past life, the film is also an observation of that period and the response from quizzers in India, not just in Bangalore, are that the film reminds them of their own past lives," Ramachandran told the BBC.

Brahman Naman is unapologetic about the traditional superiority and arrogance displayed by the male characters - a cohort of upper-caste Anglophone boys in Bangalore, which later became India's Silicon Valley.

They boys quote Shakespeare and Keats for grandiose effect (words like libations and hemlock are dropped easily) whilst uncapping a bottle of whisky or smoking a cigar.

Image caption The film is unapologetic about the traditional superiority and arrogance displayed by the male characters

The fathers are domineering and orthodox; the sons take their privilege for granted as knowledge seekers of society.

"The boys are terrible. They make mistakes, they are insensitive…but also confused," said Q in an interview.

That is what, many say, makes Brahman Naman an unusual - and an enjoyable - Indian coming-of-age film.

Sudha G Tilak is a Delhi-based independent journalist