Until Netflix suggested me the 2018 film ‘Noblemen’, I was blissfully unaware about its existence. Starring Ali Haji and Kunal Kapoor, this directorial debut by Vandana Kataria delves into the theme of bullying.
Shay (Haji Ali) is a sweet boy studying in an all boys’ boarding school and wants nothing but to star in a Shakespeare play for their annual day function, to make his mom proud. When he lands the coveted lead role, it invites the ire of a rich senior who was vying the same part. What follows is a dark, disturbing tale of how boarding schools breed dangerous delinquents, who would go to any lengths to torment their victims.
Kataria doesn’t shy away from exploring just how vile teen boys can be, if not kept under strict vigil. The transformation of Shay from a loving, demure boy to a scheming, vengeful teen is brought about brilliantly. The young Ali Haji is aptly cast & does justice to his role. Kunal Kapoor is convincing as the solicitous art teacher, always looking out for his students. All the other youngsters effortlessly slip into the skin of their characters too.
There are a lot of clever allusions to Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’ throughout the film. The mood is somber and the pace is almost perfect. There are times, when as a viewer you would get uncomfortable and furious at the unfolding events. And that sort of response is perhaps expected from the viewer since this is a tragic tale of how even the kindest of boys can transform into vicious men if they swim in a pool of muck for too long.
‘Noblemen’ is one of the very few Indian films that seriously explore just how problematic homophobia is. It also touches upon the themes of abusive families, teen suicides, substance abuse and toxic masculinity. There is a heart-wrenching scene in the film where Shay’s pet dies (the symbolism might be lost on some) and it also marks the demise of his own innocence.
The only problem I had while watching this film was the thought that it could be misinterpreted as glorifying bullying, although it doesn’t. Instead, I hope it forces people to rethink just what kind of values are being imparted to children when they are young.
Kataria’s film is a stark reminder of just how important schools are in the growth of an individual’s character. The bullies however get the end they deserve and the viewers get a clever dark climax. I would recommend it to anybody who wouldn’t mind watching a modern, melancholic movie about evil little men.