Naman Ramachandran talks Brahman Naman, Indian film, and Masturbation

Naman Ramachandran is a screenwriter, critic, and film journalist whose co-authored monograph Lights, Camera, Masala: Making Movies in Mumbai was published in 2006. Features Editor James T Harding met him at the European Premiere of his film Brahman Naman, directed by Q, to discuss brahmanism, the economics of Indian filmmaking, and masturbation methodology.

The film was born from a desire to recreate those days of 80s Bangalore quizzing

‘Like most things in my life, Brahman Naman happened completely by accident,’ screenwriter Naman Ramachandran told me in the bar at his hotel. He had been working with producer Steve Barron on another film set in Bangalore. ‘Every evening we would be at my club in Bangalore and I would catch up with all my old quizzer friends, get nostalgic, get drunk, talk about the old days. When we got back to London, Steve said, “This is really funny, so why don't you write that down as a script.” The next day I get a contract in the mail. And the third day I get an advance. So then I realised, “Oh shit, this guy is serious.”’

Brahman Naman is an Indian take on the teen sex movie, following nerdy Naman and his friends as they compete in a nationwide quiz championship and fail miserably to get their ends away.

Although the tone of the film is similar to sex comedies such as American Pie and Porky’s, or British shows like The Inbetweeners, Naman wasn’t interested in creating a genre movie. ‘It's a very good marketing hook for us, because then people immediately know what kind of film it is. But the film was born from a desire to recreate those days of 80s Bangalore quizzing. Something I think people have never seen in film before, whether it's in India or anywhere else in the world.’ It’s no coincidence that Naman and his protagonist share a name.

‘A lot of things that happen in the film are based on what happened to or what happened to my friends, or what they have told me.’ In particular, the various innovative masturbation methods depicted in the film are all drawn from life. In once scene, the protagonist Naman creates a masturbation machine powered by the ceiling fan in his bedroom. ‘A musician friend of mine has said he tried it at home. He's now a successful banker in North America.’

Another, in which Naman stimulates himself using the air filtration device of a fish tank: ‘One of my classmates in college said “This is what I did with my goldfish.” It would seem, from his account, that fish like semen. Which is why you have a sequence at the end of the end credits where you have all these animated pregnant fish with Namen's face swimming around in a tank. This guy's a very successful restauranteur in India.’

A more serious documentary aspect of the film appears in Naman’s preoccupation with his brahmin caste. ‘I am a thread-wearing brahmin and nowadays brahmins are increasingly marginalised in Indian society.’

‘After Independence, for a while brahmins were like 1% of India's population holding 35% of top jobs. It had to do with them being unusually highly educated. It comes with the territory. It’s drummed into you that you have to study. The government introduced Reservation for the other castes, which meant that X caste had X number of seats within a university. It got to the point where people are fighting for just 1-2% of seats in a college which are unreserved, the general-merit seats. So you had to be unusually highly educated because of that.’

‘So the Brahmins got increasingly marginalised, and thereby Brahmanism became more and more rigid. A lot of rules would be laid down. You had to study, you could not eat meat, you could not drink alcohol, you could not smoke.

‘Obviously, so what do teenage brahmins do? At least the teenage brahmins with independent minds? They rebel against all of this.’

‘Here's the clincher: they can never lose their ultimate brahmanism. They'll smoke, they'll drink, but they won't touch meat or fish. I know it sounds contradictory. But it's a rebellion with a clause. That's the backdrop of the film. My generation grew up like that.’

‘Naman's father in the film tries sermonising a couple of times, but at no point is he physically preventing Namen from doing what he does. But Ramu, he’s got an unusually strict father, one who imposes all of these rules. I wanted to show both sides of the brahmin coin. It takes all sorts.’

Braman Naman will not go on general cinematic release, instead streaming worldwide on Netflix from July this year in a deal struck during the film’s world premiere at Sundance. This decision was made, in part, because of Naman’s experience as a film critic and journalist. ‘Films that have won audience awards at Sundance, specifically India-themed films, I’ve been looking at all their journeys. A film get picked up at an A-list festival, and it gets a sales agent, and then it's a long and tortuous process of being drip fed territory by territory. And at the end of the day, the film still does not recover it's cost. It doesn't matter if it's won Venice. So we thought, why not be released in 190 territories on one date?’

Naman was looking forward to meeting up with his director Q (Qaushiq Mukherjee) later, planning to go on the lash. ‘I'm finding that bartenders in Scotland, even for blended whiskeys, are very reluctant to give you ice and soda. If it's a single malt, I understand their reluctance, but blended whiskeys?

‘These guys are very militant about their whiskeys. There's one place in London with a Scottish bartender. He refused to pour the soda in the whisky. He said, “I’ll sell you the soda, and you can take it and do whatever you want with it, but don't do it in front of me.”’

You can follow Brahman Naman on Twitter @brahmannaman and Naman Ramachandran @namanrs, and watch the show on Netflix from July 7.

Photo credit: Edinburgh International Film Festival