January 30 2016
- First Indian ‘American Pie’ style comedy to screen at Sundance Film Festival (January 21-31)
- Close to deal with Netflix for low seven figure sum
- Sid Mallya, son of brewing tycoon Vijay Mallya, in first big screen role
- British, European and Middle Eastern money behind English language production
IF YOU LIKE “The Inbetweeners”, the British TV comedy centred around four hapless teenage guys trying to lose their cherry, you are at the very least, likely to be intrigued by “Brahman Naman”.
The film screened to good reviews at the Sundance Film Festival, a hub for cool, international indie movies and was reported in trade paper, Variety as being close to formalising a Netflix deal with a low seven figure sum changing hands.
In the film, set in the 1980s, Naman, the central character (played by Shashank Arora of Cannes “Titli” fame), is the Bangalore University quiz champ extraordinaire.
Along with his three other nerdy misfit friends, they make the national finals and encounter any number of opportunities to hook up or knock one out (if you’ll excuse the phrase)…and come up against Ronnie (Sid Mallya), smooth-talking cricket champ, who gets all the girls and has no time for these losers.
Made principally by Riley Productions, a UK production company, with Steve Barron, as producer (a director most famous for Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” music video and “Mike Bassett: England Manager” – 2001), the film was written by Naman Ramachandran, a London-based film journalist who writes for Variety.
This is his first film and www.asianculturevulture.com caught up the friendly, down to earth, Ramachandran, while he was still in Park City, Utah, for Sundance. He seems an unlikely sort of guy to write a sex comedy.
He’s been delighted with the reaction to the film, which shows for a last screening today (January 30).
Ramachandran told www.asianculturevulture.com: “The reaction has been ecstatic. People are surprised rather than shocked.”
In some ways it is a shocking film… for India – even the word sex can cause palpitations and anxious looks.
Married and a well-established film journalist with a biography of the South Indian megastar, Rajinikanth behind him, and chief programmer for the annual London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) in recent years, “Brahman Naman” which has a lot of ‘self-pleasure’ riffs in it, seems quite a departure.
For him, the film is something of a nostalgia ride, and pre-1991 and the Indian economy opening up, India was really in some ways, a different country, and not too dissimilar to some Soviet Union states – the West and its freedom and consumerism were very alien.
A quizzer himself, Ramachandran told www.asianculturevulture.com :“I just wanted to marry the desperate times that smart Indian quizzers went through in the 1980s vis-a-vis the opposite sex – and the general slowness of that time period where there was very little stimuli for teenagers, as there were no mobile phones or internet then.”
He wasn’t too much like the Naman character in the film?
“This is a work of fiction where some incidents depicted in the film may have been informed by events in my past decades ago,” he responded.
On the one hand Indian society was quite austere at the time. Nobody had much money, except an elite which always had money and air miles at their disposal.
Most people could not afford to travel even inside India, and nobody much approved of those kinds of holidays anyway. It was, however, in some senses a gentler time – there were few with bruising ambition and the march of westernising culture was not so stark or obvious.
“After watching the film they (the audience) are getting to understand the dual moralities of India,” outlined Ramachandran in an email exchange.
On the outside and in a public sphere – society was very conservative (and still is); at a more private level, boys will be boys, and there is an underground culture which revels in the gross and the sublime and is often funny and escapist.
Some of that is slowly revealing itself to mainstream Indian culture –“Delhi Belly” (2011) was probably the first and most significant of gross out comedies and a sign of cruder sensibilities than commonly acknowledged.
One of the most positive elements of 1980s and perhaps a little less apparent now is the hunger for knowledge and learning – they were prized in themselves, not just as a route to something (like a job or a degree course) – though for the Naman, of the film, it meant girls, girls and more girls…who don’t want to know him…
Recreating the period when so much was different is not easy – and Bangalore, at the time, was a sleepy, former garrison town with a lot of public gardens and even a few old white British expats doddering around the place.
Ramachandran said the ‘before’ and ‘after’ experience, if we understand him correctly, was exactly what he and the makers are trying to emulate.
He said: “We had a very good production designer, Tabasheer Zutshi, and some great locations, so recreating that era was challenging but not impossible. The before and after feel was exactly what we were going for.”
While the film has been making a splash in the US, it hasn’t had too much of play in the mainstream Indian media where much of the hard subject matter (yes that was deliberate), remains taboo and unmentionable.
The choice of director – Quashiq Mukherjee, better known to many as just Q – is interesting.
Q is very much a product of the indie cult scene in India. His first film, provocatively titled “Gandu” (***hole) is a punk agitprop film that features explicit sex and nudity. Banned in India, there is energy and power but nothing resembling anything as close as a narrative or plot.
“Tasher Desh” which was screened at LIFF in 2014 is a nod towards more structured filmmaking but still relies heavily on image and invective.
In contrast, “Brahman Naman” seems way more conventional.
Ramachandran explained: “We thought about a director only after the script was finished and Q was the first filmmaker who came to mind.
“He brings a manic and edgy energy to the film. Yes, the film is much more of a conventional three act structure narrative than Q’s previous work, but he has brilliantly subverted that in his own unique way.”
In a slightly different way, Sid Mallya also similarly raises eyebrows – something of a reality TV star in India, where he appeared in on the fly on the wall documentary, “The Hunt for The Kingfisher Calendar Girl 2013”, he is the son of tycoon Vijay Mallya, who also owns the Formula One race team, Force India.
He grew up, and was schooled in England, and has been linked with some top Indian female stars.
This film is his first big screen role and it’s brave to appear in such a film which goes against the grain of convention.
Ramachandran revealed that the casting process took 18 months and that he was very involved with it.
“This is Sid’s first film role and he worked very hard to prepare and the results are wonderful,” he stated.
The budget for the film has not been disclosed but Ramachandran said they did pitch to Indian production houses too.
“The process was long and difficult. We pitched across the world and in the end financing came from a combination of British, European and Middle Eastern companies. We did pitch to Indian companies as well but they didn’t come on board.”
Ramachandran said he doesn’t have another movie in the works and will be returning to his journalism.
And so what does his wife, Laxmi Hariharan, a writer herself of the popular Mumbai teenage character, Ruby Iyer, make of “Brahman Naman”.
“She loves it and laughs hysterically every time she watches it,” Ramachandran responded.
And his folks?
“Parents know about it,” he declared, adding nothing else.
*Details have yet to be released on when ‘Brahman Naman’ will be available from Netflix
Top Picture caption (l-r): Ramu (Chaitanya Varad); Naman (Shashank Arora); Ajay (Tanmay Dhanania); Randy (Vaishwarth Shankar)
Here’s the trailer…