The new movie by indie director Kaushik Mukherjee, better known by his moniker Q, is about sex … and quizzing. The agent provocateur from Kolkata made a splash with his notorious debut feature Gandu in 2010. He has since directed documentaries as well as a contemporary take on Rabindranath Tagore’s dance drama (Tasher Desh, 2012) and a slasher movie (Ludo, 2015). Q’s latest movie Brahman Naman is set in Bengaluru in the 1980s and explores the coming-of-age adventures of earnest quizzers, led by Naman (Shashank Arora). The movie has been written by critic, filmmaker and author Naman Ramachandran, and was premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section on January 24.
The plot synopsis, according to the Sundance website : “Being a teenage virgin in Bangalore, India during the 1980s was not for the faint-hearted. If you were a quiz nerd on top of that, forget about it. Naman, a young quizard who is determined not to sleep alone, leads his hopelessly nerdy high school friends on a trip to Calcutta with their eyes on a major college quiz prize. Young, smart, and full of heart, the trio are determined to win, but they’re just as determined to lose their virginity in the process”.
Ramachandran, who has written Rajinikanth the Definitive Biography, tells Scroll.in what to expect – and what not to from the 94-minute movie, whose teaser suggests a romp both sexual and cerebral in nature.
Going by the teaser, Brahman Naman appears to be sending up the cult of “studiousness” in India as well as the specific culture of quizzing. Is the movie a spoof of braniacs?
The movie does not deal with “studiousness” at all. It is an honest look at quizzing – not a spoof but a humane look at it. As a former quizzer myself, I can tell you that quizzing is serious business and for us the pursuit of arcana is almost a religious experience. So, it is not a spoof or send-up of quizzers or brainiacs in any way, instead it is a celebration of the glorious sport that is quizzing.
Are you the Naman of the title? How autobiographical is the movie?
Yes I am. It is not autobiographical, but let’s just say that some of the events depicted in the film are informed by some events in my past life.
Why the 1980s?
It is set in the 1980s, because we wanted to recreate an altogether more innocent time when stimuli for teenagers were extremely limited – there was no internet, mobile phones etc and even television was extremely limited, just one channel a few hours a day.
The British sitcom In-Betweeners has been named as one of the influences on the movie, but are there are others too?
The In-Betweeners is mentioned as an influence on the movie solely to give modern audiences something that they have heard of and can relate to. In reality, the film has nothing whatsoever to do with The In-Betweeners. I can’t think of any direct cinematic influences really, except perhaps a nod to Satyajit Ray’s Nayak and the general zany atmosphere in the Ravichandran Kannada movies of the 1980s.
Did the script emerge out of a lack of honest discussion within the coming of age genre, especially with regard to sex and sexuality?
It is true that there has been little or no honest discussion about the coming of age genre/sex and sexuality in India, but to say the script arose out of that would be wrong. The honest truth is that the producer Steve Barron (Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing, A-Ha’s Take on Me, Coneheads, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mike Bassett: England Manager etc etc) and I were in Bangalore working on a film that he’s going to direct called Prakash. We would repair every evening to The Bowring Institute for libations and my quizzer friends would join us and we would reminisce about the good old days. Steve took notes and when we got back to London he sprang a surprise on me and asked me to write a script based on those memories. And what arose from that foundation was an honest look at teenage sexual mores and a frank appraisal of the whole business of coming of age, while gently ribbing caste systems on the side.
How involved were you with the filming? Without giving too much away, what can we expect in terms of the tone and treatment?
I was heavily involved with the film all through right from the casting to the actors’ workshops through to the actual filming and post production. In terms of tone and treatment, it is very much a distinctive Q-style film. It is visually striking in inimitable Q style, while at the same time maintaining the gentler rhythms of the ’80s.
Is the film likely to release in India? Or will it take the festival route first?
We have already received a few offers for India and will evaluate them after Sundance. There has been considerable festival interest as well.