Garbage movie review: Q's new film favours provocation over strong characterisation, storytelling

Anupam Kant Verma

Sep,06 2018 13:42:02 IST

2/5

Garbage reeks. Garbage repels. Garbage makes us turn away in disgust. Its sight and stench threatens to violate the veneer of civilised society. So it is put away. It is burned, buried or hidden in the vastness of the sea. Satisfied with the job, usually carried out for us by those on the margins of society, we lie back and take in the pleasing, resuscitated air. All is well until the dog digs up a bone or, come high tide, the sea vomits it out right back at us. Despite our most devious efforts, it is here to stay. Within its stinking depths lie the chewed out, half eaten remnants of a consumerist, self-deceiving society.

Trimala Adhikari in a still from Garbage. Image via iMDB

Trimala Adhikari in a still from Garbage. Image via iMDB

The agent provocateur — the filmmaker artist intent upon exposing the darkness that underlies the pale flame of society — clashes head-on with its moral and aesthetic underpinnings. Shock and awe. Tit for tat. Often even an eye for an eye. It goes without saying that this tactic doesn’t always hit the intended target. But as some of the work of Gaspar Noe, John Waters, Lars von Trier, Takashi Miike, Pascal Laugier and Nicolas Winding Refn among others, reminds us, when it works, the result can be luminous and penetrating. Beneath all the dirt, grime, body fluid and excreta hurled at the viewer, the film can reveal a deeply human face. The trick lies in the choice of vantage point suitable for telling the story. That, and a humility of expression.

This is where Qaushik Mukherjee’s — popularly known as Q — latest oddjoint, loses its way. From the very beginning, sides are purportedly taken. Nothing wrong there. Provocation can often demand that. But then lines are drawn. Characters are smeared with bucketfuls of blacks or whites. Since in this new, macabre India, the vagina is the battleground, as the opening title reads, the role of the victim and victimised is designated the moment the film first draws breath.

Phanishwar, the protagonist, a taxi driver, troll and religious zealot, is shown surrounding himself with all possible shades of saffron. He keeps a woman chained in his home, who, quite conveniently, has no past whatsoever. Moreover, she never speaks a word. Why? Well, that revelation won’t come as a surprise. Phanishwar’s paths cross with Rami, a victim of vehement online abuse. She comes to Goa seeking anonymity after a video featuring her in a threesome is leaked on the internet. Throughout the film, that’s basically the extent of what we learn about her life, apart from the fact that she is pursuing medicine. The culture of creative convenience fostered by the creators doesn’t stop with the utilisation of this medical training later on in the more visceral segments of the film. It is only one more step towards ensuring that the story always plays catch up to the politics of Q’s film.

Tanmay Dhanania in Garbage. Image via iMDB

Tanmay Dhanania in Garbage. Image via iMDB

It may be argued that this is part of an allegorical or synecdochical attempt to present a picture of our society. Even the complete absence of nuance can be dismissed as a way of depicting the strangulation of dissent or intelligent, alternative voices. Perhaps this really is the carcass of a society we behold swaying before us. Perhaps Phanishwar’s cancerous insides concealed beneath anger, celibacy and religious zealotry really are stand-ins for the state of the country. But nothing can explain the patronising direction and the conveniently written storytelling put in the service of blood, flesh and excreta. Or the repeated use of images from the sex clip, accompanied by thunderous, insensitively stylised music. There are multiple instances where shots are randomly inserted to provoke a reaction. It is a pageant of excess, an invasion of images spurred by an agenda, which becomes ironic for a film of its kind.

There are occasional glimpses at good ideas. Phanishwar’s character, perhaps the only one crafted with a modicum of care, is often filmed in situations which provide snatches of an insight into his disorderly and dangerous state of mind. The servitude he displays before his godman of choice and the servitude he forces down the throat of the woman he keeps at home clash to light up momentary sparks into his dark being. But the moments of tenderness, especially between Rami and another woman, are far too contrived and poorly written to make an impact within a generally inflamed story. A hysterical decrepitude and complete absence of agency surrounds the two female characters. The men, well, they’re all simply evil.

For a film that wants to stand out from the saccharine infested world of Bollywood, Garbage ends up emulating its black and white, good and evil charms. It plays the same tune again and again until it loses all sense of novelty. Had it not been for Tanmay Dhanania, in particular, and Trimala Adhikari’s strong performances, it would have run out of steam way before it does. Moreover, the shards and scraps of good ideas are scattered too few and far between Garbage to make for an edifying, if shocking, experience. When it isn’t dropping metaphors the size of bricks, it meanders from one bizarre, unjustified plot turn to another, doomed to never finding its way out of the bin.

Updated Date: Sep 06, 2018 13:42 PM