Imagine A Lunatic Asylum Where The Inmates Have Taken Over. And You Have Garbage That Takes A Good Look At What We Have Become
Garbage, which was screened at the Berlin Film Festival in the Panorama section in February, is perhaps Q's most evolved work
It is a measure of how desensitised we have become as a society that almost everything Q (Qaushiq Mukherjee) throws at the viewer in his new film, Garbage, fails to shock. A woman shamed by a video clip of revenge porn that goes viral? Been there, done that in 2004 with the DPS MMS scandal that inspired a wave of Bollywood movies, the most interesting being Love Sex Aur Dhokha and DevD. A godman who indulges in sexual perversions with his disciples? Almost every single godman currently residing in various jails of India. Far right organisations who inspire unemployed or little-employed young men to become monsters online, spewing abuse at women and liberals in equal measure? Well, almost every nanosecond on social media in India.
A dispossessed immigrant from small town/rural India, goaded and confused by the bright lights of so-called modern urban India, who attacks women viciously? Nirbhaya to Monika Ghurde, every woman who has ever died because she was too free, too young, too beautiful, too, too, female.
Which is why Garbage, which was screened at the Berlin Film Festival in the Panorama section in February, is perhaps Q’s most evolved work. It doesn’t shock, it hurts. It hits that part of us that is still not compromised by hate speeches, ugly threats, murders in the name of the cow, and rapes in the name of restoring some semblance of a shattered patriarchy. And that is the power of Garbage. In the Age of Unbridled Hate, it still looks for love, albeit twisted and torn. In the Age of Swachh Bharat, it focuses on the garbage. And in the Age of Blind Faith, it takes an unflinching look at the misadventures religion can make us take.
Set in Goa, the movie is a tense urban combat between Rami Kumar, a medical student recently shamed by a threesome leaked online; a taxi driver Phaneswar who develops an unhealthy obsession with Rami; and his wordless slave Nanaam, kept chained at home. Partly inspired by the death of Ghurde in Goa at the hands of a security guard who blamed her for losing his job (when Rami hungrily wolfs down two eggs she has boiled in her escape flat in Goa, it is perhaps a nod to a similar meal by the killer after he raped and smothered Ghurde) and partly by the death of Q’s mother, it is a walk in every dark alley when the lights have been turned off.
There are other stomach churning parallels which makes one wonder how and why we can still live in a country where these actions have become far too commonplace. A woman seeks comfort in a gigantic garbage dump, a stinking mess at the edge of a supposedly idyllic island. Two men snigger over a porn clip and then assault a woman who slaps them for violating her privacy. A man posts offensive comments on Twitter everyday, from urging critics of Hindutva to “go back to Pakistan” to saying Gauri Lankesh deserved her end, and it goes unpunished–when the tables are turned and the handle starts to attack the godman accusing him of being a charlatan, his house is visited by the same goons who were once his friends.
The ripped-from-the-headlines stories from what is happening around us gives Garbage a distinct and grim realism. It is as if the news anchors and news commentators have left the newsroom to the devices of the reporters who are telling their stories from the ground–of babies being raped because their clan poses a threat to the powerful establishment in the village; Dalits being slaughtered because they dare to raise their voices; Muslims being lynched because of what they are eating–or thought to be eating; strangers being mistaken for child lifters and slaughtered on the spot.
Imagine a lunatic asylum where the inmates have taken over. And you have Garbage that takes a good look at what we have become, a society that has become unable to bear too much reality, and has allowed fictional characters to take the reigns of power, and soothe our fevered brows with GDP figures that are managed, revenue collections that are inflated, boasts about India’s rising global power, repeated reminders of our imagined greatness in science and technology; and ad infinitum claims of targets being met, social services being delivered, and achche din being enjoyed.
At the end of a special screening in Gurgaon at The Quorum Club on August 25, only the third such in India, Q said the film is our reality and he is just observing it. “This film will be relevant even 20 years from now,’ he said, “because there is no documentation of what is happening around us.” While that is not quite true, because there will never be a shortage of chroniclers in times of distress, even if they are not in traditional media, it is true that we are living in extraordinarily bleak times.
The film opens with a statement that India is at War in 2017 and the battleground is mostly the vagina. The battleground, unfortunately, is everywhere. In every real life Rami Kumar, Nanaam. Phaneswar, and even the odious Baba Satchinandand. In its original and perhaps much more diluted version, Garbage was called The Fucked. It was perhaps a more accurate title for the film. It certainly is the most accurate description of our nation’s current condition.
Kaveree Bamzai is a senior journalist.