Brahman Naman, Netflix’s first Indian film, follows Naman and his cronies as they navigate the world of excessive secretion of male hormones (and other bodily fluids), Bangalore in the eighties, college and more such mundane events that occur in the lives of twenty year old boys. Naman is an elitist, casteist, sexist prick who also happens to be a quizzer. You could doubt your assessment at this point (as I did) – are quizzers usually elitist, casteist, sexist? I don’t think I stuck around long enough to find out.
When I was eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, my school teachers discovered I knew stuff. There was a funny test we were made to take at the end of every term, a General Knowledge Test (and this grade showed up in your report card too, against a column marked G.K.). By some freak coincidence, I scored high on this test, because I knew answers to absolutely strange combinations of questions.
Who are Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po?
(There is no reason for a middle school student to know this – Teletubbies is the cartoon equivalent of watching paint dry, with the strangest creatures who look like onesies filled up with air, and a sun that resembles a baby. It’s all very surreal. Also, it’s for toddlers – I think.)
Shweta Prasad won a National Award for her role in this children’s film.
Now that I have had enough time to reflect on the things we do in school, I cannot imagine a more useless activity than quizzing. Is it reveling in the accumulation of trivia? Does it automatically translate into a feeling of superiority? What does one do with this knowledge crammed into their brain? I cannot seem to decide if I enjoyed it or not back then. I remember the small thrill that went through me when I got an answer right, and I soaked up the attention without complaint (of course). But I also remember the anxiety that builds in the moments before the verdict is revealed, the panic that you might not know enough, the disappointment when another team presses the buzzer before you do. I remember having to show up in the weekends to practice for the Bournvita Quiz Contest and the (short-lived) fan girl moments when I finally met Derek O’Brien (quizmaster hosting said contest).
Brahman Naman showcases a quizzing culture that I am (fortunately) not familiar with (I haven’t been in touch with it for over a decade now). Why are there so few women? In a scene that felt a bit too close for comfort, Naman’s team is short of one person, and the girl who has a crush on him fills in. It isn’t required that she know anything, she’s only there to take up a seat. But even when she does know an answer, Naman and the others refuse to acknowledge her contribution. Then I think of a team mate from long ago, the embarrassment I felt when he asked me to not open my mouth during a quiz. He was confident he’d know it all, and that my contribution would be minimal. But it was even more humiliating to realize he did know it all, and I didn’t know as much.
Interestingly, the movie treats its women with more respect than you would expect from a masturbatory comedy in the same genre as American Pie. [Bonus points for the most creative (and scary) use of a fan, a fish tank and a refrigerator.] The women are clear about what they want, and eventually make decisions that are best for them. The men are sex-crazed and sexually repressed – even something as normal as a girl answering the phone is sexualized in Naman’s mind. Unlikeable people can have movies made about them too, and Brahman Naman stops just short of being an unwatchable movie.
Seriously, though, what use is quizzing?