Pillow Talk with the Filmmakers of Brahman Naman

"Brahman Naman." Image courtesy of Sundance Institute

“Brahman Naman.” Image courtesy of Sundance Institute

Sundance is a great film festival to attend, but sometimes it’s what happens next that’s even more exciting. Sundance shines a huge spotlight on indie films, and we’re excited to celebrate when distributors pick up films.

That’s exactly what happened with Brahman Naman – an Indian coming-of-age comedy – which will have its global premiere on Netflix later this year. Since it’ll be some time before everyone will finally get to see the film, we thought it would be a super idea to intro you to the film by way of our in-bed interview with the film’s director, Q, and his lead actor Shashank Arora. Here’s just a snippet of our Pillow Talk:

When I’m watching this, I’m thinking… first of all, how to explain it to people. Here’s a couple mashups, tell me if I’m on point or not: if Wes Anderson would’ve made Superbad or American Pie, in India?

Q: I think you’ve got it. You’ve nailed it. This guy could be a quizzer. He could be a closet Brahman. It’s very difficult to say how you end up in a situation like that. These boys don’t have anything else in their lives. I grew up in the 80s, and as you might not know, India in the 80s was a completely different country. We didn’t have internet or cameras like these, so quizzing came in handy as a way to entertain ourselves.

Can you explain to people what quizzing is? Does it still happen today in India as a big competition?

Shashank: It still does, we have a lot of geeks back home. It’s a lot about how intelligent you are. You can be chauvinistic, patriarchal, mistreating women, and it’s all fine if you’re intelligent. The quizzing scene was big back in the 80s.

Q: It’s knowledge, but it’s trivial knowledge. It’s taken very seriously, much like competitive skiing. 

What’s so magical about this film is, it’s wrapped in comedic, ridiculous, over-the-top humor, but there’s actually a message there.  We touched on the different classes, and the fact that sex is so taboo in India. It’s one of the reasons you guys brought it here to an American film festival. Let’s talk about the reasoning for bringing this film to Sundance, and your thoughts on bringing it back home, and how people will perceive it.

Q: I think you hit the nail on the head there. We’ve always had a sexual culture. We wrote the first books, we invented how to kiss, but lately we’ve been a little bit of a dull community. One of the biggest things I think is a hindrance is the patriarchal system. These men are ruling over everything, so I think a big thrust was to get into the skin of these characters and through them, show how ridiculously perverted we were and are as a country. We have more than a billion people, yet we still won’t talk about sex. It’s ridiculous. It makes sense to show this film here at Sundance in America, because it’s notorious as a “dirty” country. You have American Pie and stuff like that, we don’t. We want to be like you.

Sundance is a perfect fit, because films here do push the envelope.

Q: This is not the first time Sundance has shown a risque film, and it’s a great spot because the audience here, and the programmers — they get the point and understand the importance of the film. Under the guise of a screwball comedy, we are talking about the class system in India, gender inequality, perversion and patriarchy. These are critical topics to discuss in India, because we’re going through a sh*t time, almost going back in time and becoming ridiculously anal about things.

When do you plan on showing this back in India? And what do you think the reaction is going to be? Are you scared? Excited?

Shashank: I’m not scared, I’m excited, man. It’s a comedy, because it’s not trying to be preachy. If we tell people, chauvinism or patriarchy is bad, nobody is going to listen. The guise of a comedy is the perfect delivery for people to listen to the message.

Q: I think more importantly, the comedy angle and the fact that we have the 3 F’s. These new techniques of entertaining yourself will be critical for Indian viewers. They’re in need of some “medication” and there’s no sex ed in schools, so we’ve taken up the job.

As a filmmaker watching the industry right now, how do you see filmmakers telling stories in a new, unique way?

Q: I think the term “film” is debatable right now. We no longer shoot on film. I became a filmmaker because of the digital age, because I’m not a classically trained filmmaker. I think that’s providing a huge burst of energy into the world of cinema. Young filmmakers can now play with form more than ever, and that’s going to change everything: how we look at stories, how we tell stories, whether we even want to tell a story. Cinema is about the 3rd dimension, going beyond the story.

For more with Q & Shashank, watch the full Pillow Talk interview: