In a country where they’re already on the third iteration of the Kya Kool Hain Hum and Masti franchises, Indian sex comedies tend to be gleeful in their treatment of women as sex objects and revel in the male gaze. Director Q (aka Quashiq Mukherjee) and writer Naman Ramachandran approach Brahman Naman with a critique of toxic masculinity and reinvigorate the clichés of the genre with a twist.
Right from the first scene where Naman (Shashank Arora) tiptoes around his house and gets off on a fridge, later the home aquarium, and then by tying his member to a ceiling fan – the film treats its heroes with bemusement and horror. Set within the quizzing mileu of a Bangalore college in the 1980s, Naman and his two horny friends Ajay (Tanmay Dhanania) and Ramu (Chaitanya Varad) desperately want to lose their virginities. But they speak entirely in trivia factoids in that typically indulgent way, but clam up whenever they’re around the women they objectify. These nerds soon take in the green Randy (Vaishwath Shankar) to be part of their quizzing gang.
Q offers an unflinching take on horny masculinity and the horrors that accompany it: swimming with hormones, full of narcissism, and completely brainless about how to treat women properly. They’re awkward in the way that so many high school and college guys are: forming cliques, seeking solace in nude mags, and mask their insecurities with in-jokes. Even their choice brand of cigarettes are the ones that Sherlock Holmes smoked.
Q and Ramachandran also explore casteism, whereby Naman’s self-importance comes from his Brahman superiority complex, especially when it comes to women. Ajay complains, “Why are we Brahmans so conservative!” when he can’t muster up the courage to look up a sleeping girl’s dress at a party – it’s a puritan line that even they can’t cross. Naman also finds a Brahman justification for his actions and pompously says, “Brahmans must be magnanimous to the servants so that the natural order is maintained,” when talking about his Christian crush.
The film shifts gears when the team participate in a national championship in Calcutta, where they meet a female team led by Naina (Anula Navlekar). In Naina, Naman meets his match. She sees right through his jackass behaviour and completes most of his flirty trivia one-liners for him. It’s refreshing to see these women school these heroes about their entitlement around love and sex, as Naina reminds Naman that just because a girl finds him likeable doesn’t automatically mean she loves him.
It takes a skillful and measured hand to ensure that the audience isn’t turned off by these guys, since they do remind you of the “Nice Guy” trope, where a man is horrified by rejection and continues to be an oblivious jerk to all the women around him. Ramachandran and Q show us how these young men must learn their boundaries through their missteps, which always blow up in their faces. Naman also gets a just comeuppance from his friend Ash (Sindhu Murthy) and crush Rita (Subholina Sen). Often these guys are grotesque in the way they treat women, but the male gaze isn’t celebrated since it comes from a place of projection and desperation from the guys. Anything from a mattress is sexualized to Naman and it’s treated in a hilarious but pathetic light as his desperation speaks volumes to the lack of sexual awareness in the country.
Apart from critiquing its heroes, Bhraman Naman is one of Q’s most accessible works. He retains his anarchic spirit and creativity with trivia questions inserted at crucial junctures, and uses fish-eye lenses during drunk montages. It’s easy to see why Netflix scooped up this title from its Sundance debut, since on the surface it comes from the Porky’s and American Pie school of sex comedy. Yet, Q and Ramachandran ensure there are more layers to the rowdy sight gags and cheesy 80s music – you do care for characters even through their cringingly bad behaviour. I especially loved that comic Biswa Kalyan Rath, Kanan Gill’s partner in crime for their Pretentious Movie Review series, had a hilarious cameo as their classmate who tells wildly exaggerated stories of his sex life. You might’ve spotted him from the end of the trailer with his “rubbing rubbing” joke!
Brahman Naman is a rare film that treats its quartet of stars with unique empathy – if they look beyond sticking their dicks in aquariums and fridges, they might take a hint and start challenging themselves!