Berlinale: Garbage (2018)

Q’s Garbage unfurls like a scream of pain and rage against Indian society gone dystopianly wrong.

Trash Society

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Glossily set and shot in a lush, green monsoon-soaked Goa, where director/writer Q now lives himself, Garbage fiercely attacks the political fault lines of patriarchy, misogyny, inequality and sham religion that he sees running through Indian society, which rupture as three lives – and worlds – intersect.

A mute female slave with no name (wild-haired, half-naked Satarupa Das) is chained in a dilapidated house. Her keeper who lives with her is Phanishwar (Tanmay Dhanania, Braman Naman), who works as a tourist taxi driver. Medical student Rami (Trimala Adhikari) flees from the fallout of a revenge-porn sex video her ex-boyfriend has posted online. She arrives in Goa, to the luxurious empty holiday home of a friend. Picking Rami up from the airport in Goa and recognising her from the sex video that went viral, Phanishwar becomes obsessed with her. He stalks her as she goes to bars, drinks and encounters strangers. Meanwhile Phanishwar is the fervent devotee of a Hindu religious sect that worships a bogus blind corrupt guru, Baba (Satchit Puranki) and when not driving he spews hate-filled right-wing posts online.

Modern Goa is shot as a blur of roads and night-time coloured lights. Crass tourists voraciously hoover up drugs in the back of Phanishwar’s taxi, predatory men relentlessly hit on single women in bars. The film mixes live action with an onscreen mosaic of online internet posts and phone-video clips. There’s male and female nudity (sometimes verging on gratuitous), female/female sex scenes, torture and visceral bodily functions filmed in repugnant detail. Faith healing is cynically exploitative. The threat of violence hangs over women wherever they go. Symbolically, there’s a huge garbage heap that is visited and revisited. Possibly some characters consider themselves human garbage – or believe that society considers them so – or it represents society itself.

In the nightmarish world of this sexually and digitally hypercharged society, anger and frustration finally boil over into an extreme, violent revenge on a male oppressor. Garbage is a daring film that uncompromisingly sets out to shock. It reflects a sick society harshly back at itself. Not everything that happens is explained or even explicable, though it’s clear that the uneasy world of Garbage turns on exploitation and humiliation. And, of course, on a gross power imbalance between rich and poor, men and women, leaders and followers. Its director’s blistering world view of diseased sexuality, debased spirituality and out-of-control online media leads to a personal, and maybe also a political, implosion. This savage vision makes Garbage a dangerous film to watch, subverting, as it does, clichés of India on film.

Q’s (Qaushiq Mukherjee) previous films rap musical Gandu, Tasher Desh, Ludo and comedy Brahman Naman are varied, experimental and also extreme. His Garbage is the only Indian film selected for the Berlinale in 2018.

Garbage received its world premiere in the Panorama section of the Berlinale and is now screening at the 68th Berlin Film Festival.

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