The silly, chaste musicals of Bollywood could not be further removed from “Garbage,” a tedious, tawdry and torturous take on India’s gender wars from the director who bills himself as “Q.”
Qaushiq Mukherjee has written and directed a gruesome and explicit tale of sex slavery, religious fanaticism, torture and revenge. It lives on the cusp of excruciating as Q tries to make us his mind what unpleasantness he’s going to show us next.
“At the peak of India’s gender wars,” an opening title informs us, the “battleground is the vagina.”
What does this have to do with Phanishwar (Tanmay Dhanania), a Goa taxi driver whose main job is taking tourists to the red light district?
He listens to sermons by a blind ultra-conservative Hindu cleric (Satchit Puranik) and puts out a seriously pervy vibe, even to the coked-up foreigners who ride with him. If they only knew. What’s he keep a pickax in his trunk for?
Phanishwar has a woman (Satarupa Das) chained up at home. He doesn’t speak to her, and she doesn’t speak at all. Semi-nude, feral, she is held by a simple snap shackle which makes one question the psychological bonds of slavery, as well as her intelligence.
Rami (Trimala Adhikari) is a young woman on the run. There’s a viral video of her in a threesome flooding over India’s internet. At the very least, we’re seeing her intoxicated and taken advantage of, at worst — assaulted.
She has fled to Goa to hide. Phanishwar picks her up, delivers her to a rental house and lets her lean on him in her time of need. But he’s seen the video. Phanishwar’s favorite hobbies are online porn and posting hateful, judgmental comments on posts by others on social media. A classic fanatic, he’s a flaming hypocrite.
“Flaming” is what he feels when he urinates, as well. It isn’t just misguided religious devotion that makes him what he is. He’s sick, and in a man’s eyes, sick where it counts.
Rami’s odyssey sees her endure harassment every time she goes out. Once, he is rescued from piggishly persistent men by the lesbian Simone (Gitanjali Dang), who before she takes her home for some alone time, motorbikes them to the vast dump.
“Garbage knows garbage,” she says. “I know what I am.”
Rami stares at ceiling fans, as if wonder if they’d hold her weight should she tie a noose She confronts video harassers. And she buys a cage.
Q suggests Rami is being victimized for being modern, sexually active, curious and prone to bad decisions. She is contrasted with Phanishwar, superstitious, patriarchal Old India, a man who relies on faith and absurd (and graphically sexual) folk cures.
We get it. Obvious. We don’t need to return to the toilet, see fresh versions of debasement. We get the message in the parable.
This self-consciously “arty” take on gender roles, sexuality, torture and revenge features a voice of Big Sister a few times in the film. She rails against perfume and judgement, menstruation and masturbation.
A bit more effort on streamlining the plot and adhering to logic would have been a blessing. Q would rather reach for the next cheap, gross shock. As the lady says, “Garbage” knows what it is.
MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic sexual and violent content, drug abuse
Cast: Tanmay Dhanania,Trimala Adhikari, Satchit Puranik, Satarupa Das, Gitanjali Dang
Credits: Written and directed by Qaushiq Mukherjee . An Artsploiation/Netflix- release.
Running time: 1:48