For Q, this might be his tamest yet. The indie filmmaker, who has, in the past, given audiences the sexually explicit Gandu (2010) and the rather macabre Ludo (2015), is gearing up for the release of his latest film, Brahman Naman, a high-school sex comedy, on July 7. Three inebriated virginal Anglophile quizzers, all Brahmins, sometime in the Bengaluru of the 1980s, go through the demands of puberty, only to find themselves constantly tussling with a repressive Indian sanskari attitude and, strangely, caste.
(L-R): Tanmay Dhanania, Chaitanya Varad and Shashank Arora star in Brahman Naman as three ace quizzers, quizzed out when it comes to sex
"We keep talking about things we cannot eat, but when it comes to cinema, our belief is that it has to be completely palatable," Q says, predictably, after admonishing us for referring to him as Qaushiq Mukherjee. "I killed Qaushiq eight years ago," he says, jaded with having to explain this a little too often.
In the business of making and breaking identities, Q’s latest picks up on the middle-class attitude to sex, something which has probably undergone very little change over the decades. "When it comes to sex comedies, it seems we have not understood the key issue of repression. The impact of sexual identity on social development is hardly thought about; we are told learning how to f**k is wrong! It is a physical ability as basic as eating, sleeping and drinking; good sex is as important as good water or good food," he says.
Like Porky’s and American Pie, or like the novel The Inscrutable Americans, the mission for Naman (Shashank Arora, who starred in Titli last year), Ajay (Tanmay Dhanania) and Ramu (Chaitanya Varad) is more or less distinguished in the course of the movie — hormones are raging, there is a subconscious effort to get laid, but it seems easier to win a quiz than lose one’s virginity. However, there is nothing stopping these high-school braniacs from ‘doing it’, not even the charming competition on the men’s playing field such as Ronnie (Sid Mallya). The only obstacles to a memorable (or forgettable) romp are themselves, as Q says. There are opportunities aplenty, right from hotel rooms during a quiz competition in Kolkata to a night at Naman’s father’s mattress manufacturing factory Rubber On, but none that the boys want to seize. The mission hardly gets to missionary.
If anything, Brahman Naman is an anti-sex comedy. Several puns, gags and jokes in Brahman Naman fall flat, in that way that nerdy adolescent humour can outside of its circles, but it can be argued that this is the world that scriptwriter Naman Ramachandran wanted to lead us into. "Naman had been working on the script for more than two years, and it looked into the politics of caste and how men in India are brought up," says Q. The semi-autobiographical script borrows from Ramachandran’s upbringing, the severity of classrooms and living with caste discrimination. "Even among the trio, Naman is higher up the rung, perhaps because he is fairer than Ajay," says Q.
As caste becomes the path to abstinence, Q is sure that there will be those who shall be offended by the theme of the film, if not its content (it’s a sex comedy, what do you expect?) or title. Dismissing these concerns as "impairment" on the part of audiences "who need medical assistance for their lack of humour", Q says he is a big fan of extreme physical cinema, such as that put forth by Japanese filmmakers since the 1970s. Lots of goofing around and slapstick apart, Q says, "Look at the way these characters carry themselves; there is a certain manner in which virgin boys walk."
Q breaks the mold in a number of ways with this film, which is his most commercial yet. It will see a global release on Netflix, bypassing the usual travails of cinema in the country. It is also set in Bengaluru, a city often ignored by mainstream cinema. "Most of my films were set in Kolkata, so it was refreshing to depart from this and feature Bengaluru. However, much of this film is shot in Mysuru; we found Bengaluru of the 1980s there, since not much has changed. We all lived together for almost a month, with the actors imbibing the slow way of life of the 80s imbibing working on their diction [the South Indian accent to their English]," says Q.
When will we have a high-school sex comedy which talks about the female experience? Where girls want to lose their virginity to nerdy quizzers and the charming Ronnie-Mallyas of the world? "I am waiting for a story like that. A story where women talk how they were brought up in a space like India, with all its gender and racial intricacies. I want more dirty stories from and by women, the kind that will make men rethink feminine sensuality."