As is mandatory in all sex comedies, the protagonist of Brahman Naman, India’s first Netflix film, is a perennially lusty young chap who doesn’t miss an opportunity to look up a girl’s skirt or bury his face in an adult magazine. Yet, Naman, the ace quizzing champion, won’t give into the desperate advances of his college mate Ash because he can’t look beyond her braces and pimply face. When he takes the mocking too far, Ash gives him a tight slap and declares ‘You’re ugly’ before moving onto the next college geek. Herein lies the strength of Brahman Naman. “The women drive the film,” explains the film’s writer Naman Ramachandran. “They were consciously written as clever winners in sharp contradistinction to the boys who are epic losers. I firmly believe that the female of the species rule the world – at least they rule my world,” he adds.
Exactly a week after Brahman Naman’s release on Netflix, we got Great Grand Masti – the third instalment in a commercially successful series that started with Masti in 2004. In this universe, the women have no personality, no brain and are made to breathe heavily instead of saying actual dialogues. They are all uniformly big breasted and so they must wear very tiny clothes. In case you want to look beyond this, the writers ensure you can’t by giving them names like Lily Lele and Titli Boobna. In 2013’s Grand Masti we had three sisters named Rose, Mary, Marlow. Their mother is Laura. Get the joke?
The common thread binding this tradition of dim-witted sex comedies is writer Milap Zaveri who started it all with his film Masti. He’s now become the go-to guy for this genre. He would have written last week’s Great Grand Masti as well, but had his hands full with the other two sex comedies of 2016, Mastizaade (which he also directed) and Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3, both of which released within a week of each other. Most would agree that they couldn’t tell the difference between the two. “I would say it is very smart to call your character Lele. In the name itself you’ve got a joke and a laugh,” says Zaveri in his defense. “I’ve seen people really laugh at Boobna. I knew a girl in college with that surname and there used to be so many jokes on her. People think Hollywood is cool and we are not. Look at Meet the Parents, why do you think the guy is called Focker?” he asks.
Zaveri confesses that his barely-there plots and one-dimensional female characters are nothing but intentional tropes. He doesn’t defend it, instead claims they are necessary. “It won’t work otherwise. How many layers can you find in an adult comedy? I don’t need it. If I give it too many layers and people end up getting bored. Then what is the use? Just like an action film needs an explosion and a car chase, an adult film needs sunshine, good looking women, hot guys,“ he says. That’s not all. There are some other must-haves as well – “I put a lot of references to fruits. People tell me I’m obsessed with bananas. And all the men have to look like they’ve not had sex in 45 years.”
Brahman Naman too has ample images of male genitalia, masturbation by a fridge, and a detailed encounter with a sex worker. But within the framework of a sex comedy, Ramachandran says he’s tried to attempt something that hasn’t been done before. “A coming of age comedy which explores what happens behind the closed doors of ‘Brahman brainiac’ hormonal males in the 80s that also captures the argot that they speak in has never been seen before. The genre is underdeveloped in India because writers largely cater to the Bollywood market and not to the vast swathes of English-speaking audiences,” says Ramachandran. Therefore, the Netflix pick up was a dream come true for the makers. “The normal process of global distribution for an indie film is very complicated and takes a couple of years. With Netflix, we are in 190 territories in 20 languages. We had our theatrical fill when we watched it with audiences in Sundance, LA, NYC, Edinburgh, London and Stuttgart – we got the experience without the torture,” he adds.
While the film itself has received mixed reviews, Ramachandran’s attempts have been much-appreciated. Meanwhile, if you run through the reviews of Masti and the like, it’s hard to find a single kind word. Zaveri sportingly narrates some of the harshest lines from his reviews with a smile. But adds that he does feel hurt at times. “If critics end up giving 4 stars to Housefull, and Rowdy Rathore and Grand Masti, maybe they feel people will not take them seriously,” he says understandingly.
Makers of other recent comedies too want to distance themselves with this brand of filmmaking. Last year, Phantom films produced director Harshvardhan Kulkarni’s debut feature Hunterrr that chronicled the sexual escapades of a Maharashtrian man. When asked about similarities between Hunterrr and the other comedies, producer Anurag Kashyap exclaimed, “No I don’t like Masti, and I won’t watch it also. I wouldn’t watch it on cable or for free, not even if someone paid me Rs 5 crore.” Not too many actors want to be seen in them either, which is why all of them have the usual suspects – Aftab Shivdasani and Tusshar Kapoor.
Zaveri says that when his films release, he practically starts living in the theatre. Watching lines of burqa-clad women laugh uproariously at his jokes convinces him that he’s doing something right. Instances of Vir Das running butt-naked on the road with a condom on and a coin flying each time a man is aroused is welcomed with cheers and claps. In the world of single screens, there is much respect for wordplay like ‘no mangalsutra, only Kamastura’. “I’m all the time thinking of an audience. These films run my house and my producer’s house. I would love five stars for every film but if there are only five people sitting in the audience then I don’t want to make that film,” he says.
That said, the numbers for Great Grand Masti show the film was dead on arrival. To be fair, the film was leaked online two weeks ahead of release. We can only hope that this dampener will put the brakes of these unending franchises – at least for a while. Zaveri, too, would like to build on his repertoire that also includes more gritty films like Kaante (2002) and Shootout at Wadala (2013). “It’s not that easy. If Anurag Kashyap wants to make Housefull, they won’t let him. Similarly I can’t be allowed to make a Raman Raghav. Sometimes it hurts. Certain scripts of mine that I find will get me that respectability from critics will not be allowed to be made,” he says. If nothing, he promises to write better dialogues with no rhymes. “I have consciously tried to control my penchant for rhyming. In Shaadi No. 1 (2005), I wrote stuff like, ‘Jab pajama main ho pehle se naara, toh nahi lagate hain elastic’ and ‘Girlfriends ke saath nahi manaate picnic jab biwiaan ho itni fantastic’. I went too far,” he narrates ruefully. We agree.