Brahman Naman

While Brahman Naman is, on paper, very much a film Not For Me, there are several satisfying developments in it. The foremost is that finally a film gives man-children pretty much what they deserve rather than what they want or even need. The main protagonist, Naman (Titli's excellent Shashank Arora), is missing the point with sweeping strokes as badly at the end of the film as he was at the beginning. I'd feel a little bad for Naman if he weren't so single-mindedly solipsistic and lazy, refusing to assemble what he could easily learn into any kind of context or understanding. He asks no questions and he has no real or nuanced curiosity—just entitlement to a self-narrated, self-defined goal that takes no account of the other person that it requires. He doesn't even do research in helpful ways, his emphasis on trivia just as self-congratulatory as his incessant physical self-gratification. The characters are walking—well, mostly sitting on an roadside bench—advertisements for the meaningless of undirected, unapplied intelligence. A side character mentions that the boys usually skip class, and it shows: they have no idea how to participate in group settings beyond their own clique. They can't even play a prank effectively, so clueless are they about how their peers think and act.

While Naman is determinedly masturbatory, the film is not particularly, at least that I picked up on (quizzing/scholastic bowl wasn't a thing in the schools I grew up in). I agree with Ranjib Mazumder that the script has a smirk about it at times, but I never got the sense that the creative crew was overly proud of themselves for their twist on hopeless young men. The dynamics remind me so much of Sulemani Keeda set at college 30 years ago, with the difference being here that the film as a whole acknowledges the world outside its horrible central characters.

It's also a discomforting film. It has a lot of imagined, discussed, and actual nonconsensual touching, even involving people who are asleep or otherwise unaware of what's happening. Naman and his group manage to be as revolting as the heroes in filmier films who think harassment is romantic. Academic intelligence does not prevent them from being every bit as bad as every sparklier, smoother, prettier mainstream hero who ever grabbed when he was told not to. The most dramatic instance of this was a punch in the gut, switching from what seemed like genuine affection into a vile interaction that should have gotten much harsher rebuking than it did. And because Naman is who he is, he doesn't even learn from his very serious transgression for more than a few moments. I kept thinking of the recent Stanford rape case, though at least Naman's father probably would have been ashamed of him and punished him.

Interestingly, the women on screen in Brahaman Naman are more evolved than some of their filmi counterparts. These women say no and mean it—and mean no and say it. They also offer some lessons in slightly longer sentences, but the film doesn't ask them to stick around to make sure Naman learns anything. At first this frustrated me because I want to know more about what would happen in particular dynamics, but after the film ended I realized oh, of course, nothing will happen because Naman isn't going to change and these women wisely saw it and left, mostly sooner than later, having far better things to do than hand-hold this fuckwit.

My experience with Indian cinema so far is that black comedies are fairly rare, but I think one could make the argument for Brahman Naman falling into that category. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood, or maybe because I'm a grown-up woman from another culture, but by the end I was so distressed and feeling hollow from the mattress factory scene that I had nothing left to laugh about.


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