“THE NOBLEMEN’— An All Boys’ Boarding School

“The Noblemen”

An All Boys’ Boarding School

Amos Lassen

Boarding schools have wonderful traditions and exclusive boarding schools have wonderfully exclusive traditions. You can guess by the title of this review that we are talking about an exclusive school. The boys that come here continue to practice the traditions and codes that are now age-old.

It is winter in a prestigious all boys’ boarding school, where children continue to practice age-old rituals and codes bound by years of hierarchy of the popular norm.

We meet Shay (Ali Haji) who is picked at constantly, by Arjun (Mohammed Ali Mir), the tall athletic sports captain and his best friend Baadal (Shaan Groverr). Shay and Pia, the spunky daughter of the new Junior School Principal, are cast as Bassanio and Portia in the Founders Day production of Merchant of Venice. Murali (Kunal Kapoor), the charismatic drama teacher unknowingly adds salt to Baadal’s wounds by casting him as Shay’s understudy. Indignant, Baadal vows to get Shay’s part at any cost and turns to his buddy Arjun for help. Events take a sinister turn when Shay walks in on Arjun, Baadal and their cronies on a debauched night.

The school is in India but it is obviously a remnant of British colonial days and the children are still expected to practice the age-old rituals and codes which should have been done away with years ago. Here in this very formal atmosphere, there is a hierarchal system which allows the senior boys to use the younger sons as their slaves.

14-year-old-Shay is labeled a sissy because he hates sports and prefers drama class. He is devoted to his invalid mother who he is allowed to call via Skype once a week, and who has promised that she will be well enough to finally visit him on Founders Day at the end of the term. Shay’s only two friends are Ganesh (Hardik Thakkar) who is the butt of everyone’s jokes because he is so overweight, and Pia, the only female pupil in the school.

When Shay and Pia are given the leading roles in the Founders Day production of Merchant of Venice, it really upsets Baadal who wants to follow in the footsteps of his father who is a Bollywood movie star and this would have been the perfect part to show off his talent.  Equally important is the fact that enlists Arjun (he wants to be with Pia and he sees this as a perfect opportunity for him to get close to her.

When Baadeal’s clumsy attempt to bribe Mr. Murli, the drama teacher fails, he gets Arjun to ‘persuade’ Shay to give up the part.  Despite all the brutal force they apply to get him to agree, Shay stubbornly refuses as he wants to be able to perform for his mother.What we have is a relentless battle of brawn against wit, and even Ganesh gets drawn into it in such a way that it almost costs him his life, but it isn’t until Mr. Murli becomes aware of the situation and gets involved, and tries to help, that it really gets out of control. 

Once Mr. Murli goes public with the story and Shay is now outed and humiliated by being labeled a rat by almost the entire school, he seeks his own bloody revenge ala “The Merchant of Venice”.

“The Noblemen” reminds us that there still exist schools with this kind of insidious regime where bullying is commonplace and that are also breeding grounds for homophobia. The biggest offense that any of these boys can have is being gay, and the brutal punishment administered to Shay just reinforced his long-held fears about the consequences even more. This kind of activity can contribute to making someone so ashamed of their own sexuality that they will take extreme measures.

“The Noblemen” is the feature-directing debut of filmmaker Vandana Kataria. 

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