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Film Review: Brahmin Bulls

Written by Jeff Bannis
21.08.15

 

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Whoever thought up the title, Brahmin Bulls, has some explaining to do. What exactly does it refer to? Is it a reference to the rampant masculinity of the two leading men? Is it anything to do with Hinduism and sacred cows? Or a play on Brahman bulls, the first native domesticated American cattle stock? To find out, let’s chew the cud.

This story is set in a sleepy LA suburb where Sid, a thirty-something architect, is sounding the depths of his first divorce. Ellie, his wife, has jumped ship on her own, leaving Sid to mope around what was once their dream home, a nondescript bungalow Sid once harboured dreams of turning into a triumph of design. As we join him, he is playing nursemaid to the cat he always hated as a way of delaying the final separation of goods and chattel.

It’s beautifully photographed and scored and actually creates a credible facsimile of a more hip, indie aesthetic before weaknesses in the script and a general lack of conviction begin to tell.

One day, Sid’s dad, Ashok turns up on his doorstep. An academic ostensibly in LA for an engineering conference, Ashok wants to spend a week with the son he hasn’t seen since Sid and Ellie tied the knot three years earlier. Ashok has no idea his only child’s marriage has ended.
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Unifying and dividing the two men is the memory of Sid’s mother who died while he was young. Sid resents his father because he feels that Ashok left her unmourned. This powerful storyline however, is left somewhat under-explored, as are other intriguing subplots, one involving a date with a beautiful fellow architect; another, the frustrations that ended his marriage and yet another, Ashok’s resurrected relationship with a mystery woman played by Mary Steenburgen.

Brahmin Bulls’ problem lies in touching upon some great ideas for family drama, then running away just as they get interesting. Restraint is admirable in cinema but this film is too quick to abandon its themes. The result is that the drama never really comes alive.

Returning to that title, there is a noticeable tendency to over-state the aura that Ashok and Sid project to those around them. Particularly women. The pair are portrayed as being virtually irresistible to every member of the opposite sex and everywhere they go, they are met with instant female adoration. This runs contrary to the more typical approach within the American indie genre the film seeks to emulate, where the idea of the men as macho “Brahmin bulls” would tend to be gently mocked or ironised, rather than upheld.

Sid’s makes a horrendous faux pas in attempting to kiss a beautiful office colleague. Maya soon simperingly forgives him however when he spouts his half-baked treatise on his love of architecture in her ear. But hang on, as a qualified architect herself surely it would take something slightly more compelling to impress her? Perhaps she could have told him that architects use computers and 3D drafting programs these days and not giant A0 drawing boards? We’ll never know because it’s another of the undeveloped avenues opened up but then not explored in the story.
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Roshan Seth rescues the hour with a humorous and charming performance and really lights up the screen in the sequence when he takes his son out on the town. His presence and that of Mary Steenburgen lift the film onto a higher plateau. Their sequences are the most enjoyable and encourage the suspicion that ultimately the audience will not mind their scenes stealing the thunder of the film’s main plot.

An inoffensive way to pass 90 minutes then, but maybe Hollywood makes fewer comedy dramas nowadays because the best of the best have raised the bar so high. My beef with Brahmin Bulls is, in terms of humour, insight into human emotion and social mores, it doesn’t quite get there.

Brahmin Bulls in UK cinemas 11th September 2015