The film critic, journalist and Rajinikanth biographer has now turned storyteller, having just written Brahman Naman, the first Asian Netflix original.
Naman Ramachandran’s love affair with films began when he was a young boy in school in Alleppey. Thanks to his mother, he was introduced to the world of Satyajit Ray’s films. He was firm in his belief that films and becoming a film critic would be his professional ambition. He completed a Master’s degree in Journalism from the Asian College of Journalism, and his dream of becoming a critic began to take shape. “Ray’s films had a huge influence on my life, once I could appreciate his work,” says Ramachandran. “As a child of the ‘70s, I also discovered Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan and Amitabh Bachchan around that time, and I was soon sucked into that world.”
Post stints as a film critic, working the entertainment beat, he took another Master’s degree, in Media Management, and then worked with the British Film Institute, managing their ImagineAsia project. He is the UK and Ireland correspondent for Cineuropa, writes for Variety and Sight & Sound and has authored two books: Rajnikanth: The Definitive Biography and Lights Camera Masala: Making Movies in Mumbai.
His love for films went one step further when he turned story writer for the independent film Brahman Naman, which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and is also the first Asian Netflix original. The film, which has garnered rave reviews, follows the lives of a champion college quizzing team as they bid to win the all-India finals — and also to lose their virginities. “Steve Barron (noted film and music video maker) and I were in Bengaluru for close to four months working on Prakash (a film on adoption, pollution and unchecked urban growth that Barron was directing),” says Ramachandran. “Every evening, I would take him to my club and there we would meet all my quiz mates of more than 25 years ago. He would sit in the corner and he would listen to all of our stories, and when we got back to London, he said why don’t you write this up as a script? It can be really funny. And that’s how we have reached here!”
Ramachandran chose the ‘80s as the setting because at that time, the stimuli available to most of us were extremely limited — there was hardly any exposure to things like TV, there was no internet or mobile phones. “These were the super-smart guys, but they had no knowledge of anything that would help them in the real world,” says Ramachandran, of his protagonists.
Ramachandran himself was an avid quizzer during his school and college days, so he hardly needed to do any research for his story. “I also realised that I have been an extremely good observer of people — people and incidents have all stayed in my head. I combined all that, fictionalised it, and mined it for humour. The lead character was named after me, as he was an epic loser and I didn’t want anyone else to be branded with that name!”
The film is directed by Qaushik Mukherjee, more popularly known as Q, although Barron was originally supposed to direct Brahman Naman. “However, we felt Q would be a better fit; we sent him the script and he agreed almost immediately,” says Ramachandran.
The film was screened at Sundance this January, and had its European premiere at the 70th Edinburgh International Film festival. After Sundance, it was picked up by Netflix, a deal that allowed them make the film available in 192 countries in 20 different languages. “I am looking at a number of different things with Q,” says Ramchandran of his future plans. “Most are in the feature film or content streaming space. Soon, my four hours of sleep at night will become even less,” he laughs.