A passionate quizzer dissects India's first quizzing film to figure out how accurately it portrays his world
When the trailer for Brahman Naman came out, it promised three things.
It was clearly going to be an over the top sex comedy; a desi American Pie. It would have scenes that promised to interpret the phrase “intellectual wankery” rather literally. The trailer’s promise of prurience may be what most of those who watch the movie will watch it for. But no, I was not going to Brahman Naman just for its dick jokes.
The film also promised to peddle nostalgia. Bangalore in the 1980s; Jethro Tull; Rod Stewart — artists some of us listened to first on our dad’s tapes; Maruti 800s and Premier Padminis. But then, we live in a time when many writers, artists, and even packaged juice companies, are making a living out of nostalgia and a career out of reminiscing. All this makes Brahman Naman just one of countless ways of revisiting the past.
There’s a third thing that made me watch the film within hours of its release on Netflix. The movie was about quizzers in India, and more specifically, in Bangalore. Subculture, interest-group, tribe, a very large clique, call it what you will, I have been part of it now for the better part of two decades. Never before has anyone made a film about us. Brahman Naman promised to be that film. I even had a quizzer-like, tweet-sized jokey review ready for when the movie came out: “Brahman Naman is an island, entire of itself.”
I knew the script would display a certain authenticity. After all, it had been written by Naman Ramachandran, someone who was in the thick of quizzing in the era the movie is set in. Ramachandran was a legendary quizzer; a guy whose name often popped up over ‘libations’ (to evoke a word that Brahman Naman uses effectively to make a point about the kind of flowery language quizzers of a certain vintage tend to throw around), at Koshy’s when people like Arul Mani, who have straddled multiple generations of quizzing, would regale us with tales of quizzes and quizzers past.
And accurate it is. The questions, the kind of guesses that make up the answers, the rituals, the in-jokes, the shady quizmasters, the Akkan Just Miss (a rather evocative Bangalore phrase that is a less puerile equivalent of the North Indian ‘KLPD’), moments where another team ends up answering a question while you eagerly wait for it to pass all the way to your team — all of these are absolutely on point.
Even better, the movie is a quizmaster’s dream. It is crammed full of “fundaes”— quizzing jargon for the sort of trivia that can be morphed into a good question. Let me give you an example. ‘Ouagadougou’ being the capital of Burkina Faso is just trivia. But calling the act of stubbing a cigar out “doing a George” as Cockney-ish rhyming slang derived from George Stubbs, the painter of horses, is funda. For the next dozen years at least, across college quizzes everywhere, there will be many questions that have been framed from things that feature in Brahman Naman.
But once you are done consuming the film, the aftertaste is not quite what you would expect. It is not the sort left by a horny sex comedy. It is not even the sort you get after a good quiz. It is bitter. It is the sort of feeling left by a movie that makes you ping a friend, especially one who does not quiz, and ask, “Hey, do you think I am an asshole?”
Each and every one of the protagonists in the movie is an asshole. Casteist, sexist, privileged, shallow assholes. Elitist snobs too, but that is okay.
But they are assholes not because they quiz. They are assholes because they just are. They are assholes because they are teenaged, and most teenagers are. They are assholes because they are reasonably well off; because they can afford to be assholes. They are assholes because they are men; and in societies that let them, most men are (at least until they realize that they need not be).