Thursday, July 14, 2016

From not-a-review of Brahman Naman to a very selectively subjective overview of Bangalore Quizzing

Brahman Naman. Also known as Netflix’s first Indian film.
And fast becoming a Rorschach test that tells you more about the viewer and reviewer than about the film itself.

Do note that some of the words I have used below are harsher than they should be and maybe unfairly extreme. That is intentionally intentional. You are free to take offense, if you think I’m referring to you. I don’t think I am.

The only people who can genuinely claim to truly ‘get’ Brahman Naman are the people who actually quizzed in Bangalore in the 80s. They have their own reasons for doing so. That said, here’s the kind of people who like the film, or will claim to even if they really didn’t:
• Quizzers, mostly Bangalore quizzers
• People who want to be considered quizzers or Bangalalorean because both are cool to be
• Quizmasters who will now mine the film for future questions or fundas, as they’re called
• People who attend quizzes (I won’t insult them by calling them quizzers), especially from other cities and have seen Bangalore’s (serious) quizzers for what they are and Bangalore quizzing for what it’s become
• People like me who are glad we left regular quizzing but still in Bangalore and can still wash it all down with some sense of nostalgia and misplaced loyalty to the sport I once loved (yes, quizzing is a sport!)

So is this film about quizzing? I think not. It’s just a way-in. A convenient Macguffin. Not least because the writer Naman Ramachandran used to be a Bangalore quizzer in the 80s. But there’s no way he could’ve cut to the triviality and futility of it all if he hadn’t quit quizzing (I am assuming that because else as they say, the (quiz) lovers cannot see, the petty follies that they themselves commit.

The film is basically about hormone-driven college boys trying to get laid. But in between doing that they have to do something right? With the starting point that they have to be nerds, not jocks, as all high school movies have shown us. In India, can’t make them a team of master debators. Or chess players. Quizzing fits the bill quite well thank you.

Now coming to the protagonists – the quizzing boys themselves. The closest comparison I can find to the quizzing boys in Brahman Naman are the geeks from Big Bang Theory. While it looks ostensibly like the show is celebrating geek culture, like BN does to trivial pursuits, the reality is that BBT is merely giving the world to laugh at those geeks and their social awkwardness where even a waitress who’s not been to college can get the better of physicists. Same with BN. The world isn’t laughing with these unlikeable quizzers. They are laughing at them. Laughing would be stretching the truth a tad bit too much. Because it isn’t that funny.

Yes, the world is laughing at you quizzers, and not in a good way. And saying you are not even worthy of their pity, leave alone a shred of sympathy. They’re saying you’re sex-starved fuckers, if by sex they also mean ‘no life to speak of’. Yes, Naman would still be a thoroughly unlikeable person even if he didn’t quiz, but it is his quizzing that gives him misplaced sense of superiority and makes him a bigger douche, and a more insufferable arsehole. The problem is not with quizzing, but with the fact that he has made quizzing the cornerstone of his identity. Because that’s the only thing he’s good at perhaps. Some of the nicest people I know who quiz and are good at it would still be nice if they stopped quizzing, because they don’t define themselves by the “quizzer/quizmaster” tag, and most importantly, don’t wave the size of their fundas in other people’s faces at every given opportunity.

Brahman Naman would not be that much enjoyable for anyone who doesn’t get the subtle real-world connections thrown in. That the Calcutta quizmaster is actually De Rack o’Brain's father. Or that a Celsus funda thrown about on a train journey is a tribute to a kind and gentle old military officer. That in the character of Henry, you can see shades of an equally good, if not-so-gentle man. I am sure there are so many more I am missing. But then, I wasn’t in Bangalore then, and definitely didn’t do quiz.

So, if this film is really not about quizzing then who spending so much time on the quizzing aspect of it? Well, you see, quizzers have a way of making everything about themselves. Especially in the closed, and uninviting sub-culture that is Bangalore quizzing. And they have to make everything about themselves because it is their raison d'être. Everything is a funda to them. If a thing cannot be used as a question in a quiz, then it is useless and not worthy of their attention. I used to be there. And professional – read serious – quizzers have a way of making it all about themselves and when not comparing each other’s funda to see whose is bigger, have made the whole quizzing scene unwelcoming.

And like any person who has done quiz, I have to make this about me. I used to do quiz very regularly till a few years ago. And like that virus which doesn’t quite leave your system even though you had chicken pox when you were a kid, the keeda of being a quizzer still hovers around in your system somewhere and you have to go back to get that fix, because the quiz is on a subject you like or you know for the quizmaster is not going to show off but instead ask decent questions and about arcane trivia. The whole scene is unwelcome, but a few good men who still remain make it bearable.

I used to do quiz in the pre-facebook era and before email quizzing groups became commonplace. Before it became “cool”. Before being a geek was ‘cool’. By which time then ‘quizzer’ had become a badge of honour and people were queuing up call themselves quizzers.

I am fortunate, nay blessed, to have quizzed in a time when a kind old man – one of the best, greatest people I have had the pleasure of knowing and spending time with – embodied the spirit of quizzing as a welcome social activity and as a sport played with true spirit of sportsmanship. Not superstars and quizmasters who use quizzes to overcompensate. A great great man, thinking about whom, still brings tears to my eyes. I have sat next to the man as a scorer during one of the last quizzes he quizmaster-ed and have seen with my own eyes and heard with my own eras, in the shaking voice of an old man he kept reading out well-phrased questions from a page he held with in his shaky hands. I am fortunate to have quizzed then, not with today when some questions are either copy-paste tracts of gibberish enough fill a full ppt slide slide (in 8 points, arial) or sometimes show an image with the question being eloquently articulated in two words, ‘Put Funda’.

I am fortunate to have quizzed with – and participated in quizzes by – a man who made quizzing fun, who used his vast store of knowledge to tell us more about the world around us and used questions – that were easily work-out-able to tell us about things worth knowing, and – not as sadistic instruments of torture and as mechanisms to show off intellectual superiority and vastly superior knowledge (read wikipedia surfer) to assuage his insecurities.

I am fortunate enough to have done quiz in a time when a quizmaster would measure the success of his quiz by the number of full points and generous part-points awarded not by the number of questions unanswered. In a time when a quizmaster would be happy to see his question answered and not revel in making a poor newbie feel like an ignoramus. Being a quizmaster was a responsibility to be taken seriously, not a privilege to be abused.

Fortunate enough to have quizzed in a time when the QMs quizmaster’s decision was final and not when they are being browbeaten into awarding points to a particular answers only because a participant thinks so, or even worse bludgeoned into taking back points already awarded because the answer was just not acceptable to a particularly senior participant. Because you see, you have to show off your bigger funda go one-up on the quizmaster himself with a ‘better answer’.

I am fortunate to have quizzed in a time when newbies were most welcome and made welcome by veterans who wore their seniority with grace. In a time when not every quizmaster was expected to have attended every quiz in India in the past two decades lest he commit the cardinal sin of repeating a question that was asked in say, a quiz in Indore in the second week of August 2003. If a QM does commit that sin now, he will be suitably punished with ample scorn and a disparaging remark from the veterans of today with that most loaded of insults, ‘repeat question’ or even worse ‘cheap funda’.

Are all quizzers that bad? Of course not. But most of them I think have left the scene or have just given up like me or maybe I don’t know for sure because I’m not a quizzer anymore or maybe, because it is just hard to spot them amidst all the ‘whose funda is bigger’ brouhaha going on and the one-upmanship so prevalent now, indulged in by people who I presume go home to their refrigerators with one hand holding their laptop as they cycle through their question slides. A good funda – that no one has spotted yet or one that you’ve created – is as orgasm-inducing as a brazzers siterip, you see.

Are there no good people left in quizzing?  Of course there are. There are gentle folk, gentle giants, Bangalore outsiders and people genuinely worth knowing outside of quizzing, trying to keep the spirit of quizzing alive, but all their voices in a quiz are lost in the clamour for that extra half point by the “serious” quizzers who I presume go home to their aquariums with the score sheet in hand.

It hurts. To see quizzing become what it has become now. Unwelcoming. Intimidating. It was always a sub-culture, but at least it was inviting. And I hope it will be sometime in the future. And again may Bangalore be genuinely worthy of the title ‘Quizzing Capital of India’ not because of the quantity of its quizzes, but because of their quality. Not because it has a few of India’s best quizzers, but because it so many of them. Once again, may the points flow generously and may the flow of new people to quizzes increase. May all the good quizmasters once again share their knowledge with us all through good questions, and make us better informed about the world about us.

— End of rant —


tcv said...

There , there ... spring is round the corner !!

tcv said...

There , there ... spring is round the corner !!

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