'Garbage': Film Review | Berlin 2018

Courtesy of Oddjoint Films
An angry kick in the face.

In Q’s new thriller set in liberated Goa, two women are shamed, chained up and stalked by violent men.

There are no good, reasonable or conscientious men in Garbage, the furious thriller written and directed by Q (aka Qaushig Mukherjee); only leering porn trolls who despise and victimize women for sport, or maybe for nothing.

One of the most extreme Indian directors working on the indie front, Q has broken practically every local taboo in mightily provocative films such as Gandu, featuring a skinhead rapper, graphic real sex and modern visuals, and the psychedelic-political Land of Cards. Several of them have had a Western festival career while being banned in his home country. For lovers of his angry, dreamy, sexually violent aesthetic, Garbage does not disappoint.

To non-Indians, many of the scenes will simply read as high-octane genre fare, but there is a serious target here. This kick-in-the-face film launches an open attack on the religious-military right, which seems to be gaining ground in India with each passing day. Those obsessed with power, religion and social media are mercilessly exposed for the fanatics they are. This strong brew is highly unlikely to pass the censorship board in India. Abroad, this Wide release should stir up controversy even in the days of #MeToo, and it could be embraced by the fringe. The film made its festival bow in Berlin’s Panorama.

Staggering among drama, thriller and horror in energetic images, the film is more narratively coherent and way less druggie than the director's previous work (note that Q's production house, once called Overdose, is now Oddjoint). The story brings together Rami, a young woman who has gone into hiding after becoming the victim of revenge porn, and Phanishwar, the half-mad follower of a long-haired “baba” guru, who has a secret life out of a nightmare.

All the sexual relationships between men and women are exploitative – seen through a leering filter of hatred by the men and mortified horror on the part of their female victims. The latter (be warned) don’t accept their victim role forever. We meet Rami (a wild-eyed Trimala Adhikari) in the worst way possible: in a black-and-white porn video that has gone viral. Meanwhile, somewhere else in the world, a wild-haired young woman chained by the neck (played by Satarupa Das with the graceful aplomb of a fashion model) waits on a skinny bearded boy, Phanishwar (Tanmay Dhanania).

Rami, a middle-class med student, hysterically borrows a friend’s off-season villa in Goa, India’s coastal party town, and goes underground while she tries to come to terms with her ruined reputation. The taxi driver who picks her up at the airport is none other than Phanishwar. He quietly notices her distress and soon locates the video on his cellphone.

He’s adept at ricocheting hate messages across the Internet for his blind guru, Baba (Satchit Puranik, so perfect in the role he’s funny). It’s clear that the religious cult he follows is closely connected to the Hindu nationalist movement and relies on volunteers like him to propagate its violent right-wing ideology. Dhanania, who starred in Q’s sex comedy Brahman Naman, gives this unsavory character a wide-eyed human touch that keeps the audience guessing how far he’ll go beyond stalking Rami online. His violence against the slave girl he keeps at home seems to come out of nowhere, making it all the scarier. His relationship to his guru is clarified in a shocker scene in which Baba provides the missing ingredient for his health cure. Phanishwar, as it turns out somewhat pathetically, is suffering from untreated testicular cancer.

Depressed and distraught, Rami tries to study but can’t keep herself from obsessively watching the ruinous video. Understandably off men, she lets herself be picked up by women like Simone, a mod-looking outcast who calls herself garbage and lives in the dump. Their one-off sex scene, echoed later in the film with another woman in charge, seems a bit on the gratuitous side, but this is a sexually aggressive movie.

Much more happens before the violent, table-turning ending, which will offer consolation to no one.

Q  joins Lakshman Chandra Anand on the emotionally charged cinematography, which swings from black and white to tropical greens to some very sophisticated visual solutions. Neel Adhikari goes solo on the eclectic music score that takes its cue from 1950s home-alone thrillers. Instead of music, the end credits roll over an enraged poem written by Priyal. 

Production companies: Karma Media and Entertainment, Oddjoint, Fooyong
Cast: Tanmay Dhanania, Trimala Adhikari, Satarupa Das, Satchit Puranik, Gitanjali Dang, Shruti Viswan, Hina Saiyada, Krishnendu B Moitra, Nikhil Chopra
Director, screenwriter: Q
Poems: Priyal
Producers: Shaailesh R Singh, Hansal Mehta, Q
Co-producers: Hina Saiyada, Dipankar Chaki
Executive producer: Dipankar Chaki
Director of photography: Lakshman Chandra Anand, Q
Production designer, editor: Hina Saiyada
Music: Neel Adhikari
World sales: Wide
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama)
105 minutes