Director: Sonam Nair
Cast: Namit Das, Vikram Kochchar, Farida Patel, Trishna Mukherjee, Anuja Sanghvi, Manali Panchal
Where in the world is Namit Das? I’ve repeatedly wondered why this fine young stage actor – Wake Up Sid and Ankhon Dekhi were only the tip of the iceberg – isn’t offered more films rather than commercials. Of course, if we could answer that question, mainstream Hindi cinema wouldn’t be stuck in a strange big-budget time warp accelerated by suits, sex and stars. Till then, perhaps one can find solace in the fact that digital platforms are finding a way to embrace Das.
In the short and sweet Naamkaran, director Sonam Nair (Khujli) plays on his biggest strength: a passive, everyman, deer-stuck-in-headlights face that symbolizes most of his soft-spoken, regularly chastised characters. As Jai Kumar, he elevates what could have easily become a glorified ad film into a quintessentially “Indian” moment of humanity.
It’s a big day for Jai – we don’t know why, but it sounds like he is rushing to attend the birth of first child – and his noisy, socially incorrect family decides to ferry him to his destination in a Little-Miss-Sunshine-ish van called “Madhubala”. This name alone is a valid indicator of their heightened, melodramatic chemistry. In this country, names are viewed as more than a physical label of identity. Lifelong temperaments and imaginary fates are subconsciously carved by these diverse designations – words that are ironically chosen by anyone but the entity in question. Perhaps then, the film’s title is only appropriate. Jai tries to maintain his dignity, anxious as ever, while his multi-cultural clan members treat this ride as a picnic. He has that usual face-palmed expression – one that some might misconstrue as a muted I’m-better-than-you arrogance. One can sense he is the “pensive baby” of the household – an adult who is perhaps regularly told to lighten up. And one can also sense that the older he has gotten, the more embarrassed he has grown with the unpretentious madness of his family.
The reason I’ve mentioned “family” so often is because there is still nothing like the tone-deaf banter of a typically desi joint “parivaar” on screen to warm our cynical hearts – no matter how modern, millennial and distant we become. Jai is an embodiment of all those reluctant emotions – a prototype that Ayushmann Khurrana has mastered over time in great ensemble films like Vicky Donor, Dum Laga Ke Haisha and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan.
It’s a testament to Nair’s simple direction that they come across as endearing caricatures without really being offensive. It also helps that six minutes is all such subjects need to leave a fleeting impression on our cluttered minds.
The final moments of the film are a welcome change in a landscape that invariably oversells the concept of product placement and sponsorship (Ultra Shorts – I’m looking at you) in a creative medium. Naamkaran just about gets the context right, and in the process lends Jai an identity that seems like more than a forced token gesture in hindsight.
I’m usually not big on focused brand films. But after a few misses, Terribly Tiny Talkies seems to have managed to find that balance. Perhaps turning Naamkaran into an “Adventures Of” series of Jai’s escapades might be a fruitful idea. Or perhaps I’m just looking for excuses to see more of Namit Das in the spotlight.
Watch ‘Naamkaran’ here: