Noblemen movie cast: Ali Haji, Mohammad Ali Mir, Hardik Thakkar, Kunal Kapoor, Shaan Grover, Ivan Rodrigues, Muskaan Jaaferi, M K Raina, Soni Razdan
Noblemen movie director: Vandana Kataria
Noblemen movie rating: Three stars
Bullying can kill. It’s as simple as that, and as hard to deal with, when you are at the receiving end. Noblemen pulls not a single punch in the telling of its tale, set in a plush all-boys boarding school pervaded by the fear of a bunch of bullies who prey upon younger, softer students, coupled by the equally pervasive notion of ‘not being a rat’ which keeps it all going.
Shay (Haji) is just the kind of boy who will get picked on: bad at sports, good with words, empathetic. Things go from bad to worse when he is chosen to play the lead role in a play to be performed on the school’s founders day: Baadal (Grover) believes the role is his, and enlists the services of Arjun (Mir), the school’s sports captain-cum-prime bully, to that end.
That boarding schools (Noblemen is a very thinly-disguised stand-in for one of India’s most prestigious all-boys schools, which enrol female students if they happen to be the offspring of teachers) are rife with old practices of hazing and ragging, which are meant to turn boys into men, is well known.
Just how terrible the outcome can be is evident in the way it impacts Shay and his best friend Ganesh (Thakkar). The film takes us deep into the closed world of prestigious boarding schools and the toxic, misguided notions of honour, wide-spread homophobia, and the persistent harassment, verbal and physical, stretching to sexual torture, of those who cannot hit back.
Kapoor’s drama teacher is the one standing in between the bullies and the bullied: he is the one speaking up against these entrenched ‘ways’, and ironically being targeted himself in a manner of speaking. Bullying, pshaw; it is only to toughen up the boys, declares the deputy head-master (Rodrigues), and the head master (Raina) has to finally decide which side he is on.
Meanwhile, the damage is so awful and cruel that you are left shaken. The play-within-the-movie device is not as effective as the stuff that goes on outside, in dorms and classes and bathrooms: the all-powerful sports captain having the gall to tell off teachers, the guy who punishes ‘pansies’ but who could well be a closet homosexual, the brash entitled offspring of a celebrity father, the bright boys who learn to keep off the bullies’ radar till they can’t, the lone girl who is a real pal – all these characters are expertly drawn, and the actors play them with conviction.
You wish that the director had thought of a more believable climax. It is the only jarring note in a film which focuses on an important subject, with such clear insider knowledge and authenticity.