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Brahman Naman movie review: A tonal overdose of empty retro male debauchery

Rahul Desai | Updated on: 30 June 2016, 23:19 IST
Rating: 2.5 stars
  • Bengali filmmaker Qaushiq Mukherjee\'s fourth feature-length film
  • Written by Naman Ramachandran, starring Shashank Arora
  • Big leap for sex comedies, negligible leap for storytelling

Brahman Naman, directed by Q (Gandu, Tasher Desh, Ludo) and set in 80s Bangalore, is the brand of retro grease that makes me want to revisit Harshavardhan Kulkarni's Hunterrr (2015) with greater attention.

Kulkarni's film, though marketed as a pulpy raunch-fest, was a coming-of-age portrait of a Pune boy (Gulshan Devaiah) who just happens to be amorously obsessed with the female form. Despite being muddled with a narrative zigzagging across time frames, its adventures-of- middle-class-horndog texture, along with considerable emotional bandwidth given to each of his "conquests", made Hunterrr fairly memorable.

Disjointed moments of Mandar Ponkshe's euphoric 'rise' into adulthood still come back to me, especially while being subjected to Bollywood's aggressively daft sex-comedy epidemic in distinct permutations of Sunny Leone and various Masti-themed male suitors.

Q's 'method' film lies somewhere between these two genre goalposts. Method, perhaps because his realization of Naman Ramachandran's excitable script internalizes its time period in every sense. I'm not sure about how intentionally idiotic they sound (English-language, for most), but the film consciously *looks* like a bland, music-free, mid-80s stoner production too - the kind only de-saturated instagram filters achieve nowadays.

It even has utilizes that echoey dubbing tone and abrupt film-reel snips: deceptive in atmospheric motivations, for this is no low-budget film. It is centered around Naman Bala (Titli's Shashank Arora), a hormonal college nerd (or "Quiz F*ck": a title bestowed upon his herd by the cooler kids) in a violently experimental phase - the delicate threshold at which red-blooded teens begin to glorify sex as forbidden smut-magazine fantasies.

Naman, too, has woken up to the self-pleasuring world of unrealistic expectations: from rotating ceiling fans and long ropes to his own aquarium with nibbling fish, his raging "Brahman" member knows no innovative limits. It's impossible not to smirk at his desperation for an exotic release; in a way, like Jim from 'American Pie', by getting so creative with masturbation, he overcompensates for a conservative, homegrown and under-confident masculinity. Suddenly, every walking girl is an object beyond his reach, further enhanced by his rather proud status as an intellectual pervert. He relentlessly quotes the Bard, aches for the cherry-popping legend and hides his rampant ugliness behind national-quiz- champion aspirations.

Along with best friend Ajay (Tanmay Dhanania), amidst dingy Haywards-5000 binges and cheap cigarette stubs, Naman's is an uncomfortably familiar pockmarked existence. Arora has that patronizing and touchy Jesse-Eisenber- ish way about him, the kind you'd imagine perpetually beating off behind changing-room peepholes. Only here, he ramps it up to an unnaturally loud level, internalizing the deliberate gimmicky-ness of the script.

A still from Brahman Naman (YouTube screen grab)

One can well imagine Naman growing out of this to become an ambitious, conservative arrange-marriage- embracing man. After all, he still has those values - no drinking from jhoota glasses, never mind visualizing strategically stained lips. But this film simply documents his mandatory getting-it- out-of- system episodes. It's barely a journey either - just a brief timeline of entitled debauchery. Not pleasant, luridly funny at times, but ultimately hollow to watch.

Of course, it will contribute to his eventual growth, but it doesn't quite become a perceptive, multi-layered story on its own. Q experiments with gentler emotions, too, but often falls back on attention-grabbing devices - for instance, the incredibly boring screen-filling quiz questions parading as meta milestones: creative, if only momentarily, for the small-town monotony it personifies.

Beneath its awkward so-bad- it's-funny jokes that don't often land, Brahman Naman is ultimately 'Hunterrr' on performance-anxiety acid. It still tries to incubate the heart of a conventional theme. Naman, too, "requires" three separate girls, shoehorned in as three jerk-breaking chapters, to come of age. Did I just make a pun? Doesn't really matter if he evolves though, because this isn't a 15-year- spanning tale.

There's the sultry neighbour way out of his league, one he pictures as a throaty penthouse model answering his mysterious-stranger phone calls.

There's the female-Naman (Anula Navlekar; striking), the quintessential what-if soulmate he meets on a bizarre Lucy-In-The-Sky-With-Diamonds train-ride to Calcutta. Yin to his yang, hers is a designed presence, terminated before - heaven forbid - love pollutes the illusion of lust. And then, akin to other crass commercial comedies, there's his pimple-faced (no braces?) dewy-eyed admirer - a caricature he will turn to, only when all hope is lost.

The thing about this film is that it almost condescends with its crass anecdotes and spot-me melancholy. You don't quite expect it to brandish the 'actor' Sid Mallya playing a, well, rich Sid Mallya-ish brat, with a 'Royal Challenge' reference thrown in for good measure. Yet, it does just that. From the fridge-humping opening scene to its cyclic final shot, one doesn't quite empathize with - or even hate - Naman long enough to invest in his twisted adolescence.

That it still remains a texture-driven comedy is, both, a fleeting identity and considerable weakness. Perhaps, like with Hunterrr, I may want to revisit this after watching the next almost-there desi sexual-awakening tale. But must I wait so long?

(Brahman Naman releases on Netflix worldwide, on July 7, 2016)

First published: 30 June 2016, 23:19 IST
Rahul Desai @ReelReptile

Rahul Desai is a full-time Federer enthusiast and avid traveller who absolutely must find a way to reach Europe once a year. In his spare time, he reviews films, aspires to own a swimming pool and whines about the lack of palatable food in Mumbai.