For laugh-out-loud bad line of the year, it will be hard to top “I’m garbage. And garbage knows its place.” Were it spoken with an iota of camp, then much could be forgiven, but “Garbage” is tiresome torture porn disguised as a femme-empowering revenge thriller, convinced it’s saying deep things about contemporary Indian society. Director Q (full name Qaushiq Mukherjee) luxuriates in a grunge aesthetic akin to the seamier Anurag Kashyap films, in which unattractive visuals influenced by 1970s schlock are presented as a cool way to lens current societal unease. Yet the photography here is merely unpleasant while the storyline merges that unpleasantness with a messily turgid plot. Much like Q’s other films (“Gandu,” “Brahman Naman”), “Garbage” will get picked up by a few festivals before turning into undifferentiated mental compost.
Tonal problems are evident from the start, with the pompously sententious line, “Although the events are dangerously true, this is a work of fiction.” Q’s targets, primarily misogyny and charlatan gurus, unquestionably deserve to be sent to the trash compactor, yet the choice of lurid spectacle coupled with sadism negate any genuine critique of culture, thereby relegating “Garbage” to the midnight screenings category. That would be fine in itself if it weren’t for the film’s pretentiousness.
Med student Rami (Trimala Adhikari) runs away to Goa after an ex-boyfriend posts a nasty threesome sex video they made together. From the airport, she’s taken to a friend’s empty house by taxi driver Phanishwar (Tanmay Dhanania) — hey, that pickaxe in the back: will be used later? What about the cricket bat spotted in a corner of the house? It’s already clear that Phanishwar is a nefarious character because he’s first seen served breakfast by Nanaam (Satarupa Das), a mysterious mute woman whose heavy neck collar and chain allow her to work inside the house but don’t let her outside. Maybe the shot of him crouching over a toilet taking a dump, accompanied by a plop! plop! sound is also meant as a sign that this man is, well, garbage. And he’s an acolyte of Baba Satchitananda (Satchit Puranik), a quack holy man with an international following.
Rami is traumatized by the shame of the uploaded video, now an internet sensation, but she can’t stay in the house forever and heads to a local bar where she meets Simone (Gitanjali Dang), who utters that “I’m garbage” line with an admirable straight face as she takes Rami on a tour of the local landfill before taking her to bed for a passionate romp. That’s the last of Simone, but Rami now seems to enjoy a little lesbian action, because she next picks up a woman whom she brutally bangs with a sex toy.
Meanwhile back at Phanishwar’s house, Nanaam smears her face with menstrual blood. Phanishwar’s testicular cancer is metastasizing, which makes him ever more devoted to the Baba — so much so that he zealously gulps down the guru’s ejaculate in a private religious ceremony. Perhaps that’s meant to protect him from the cancer, though it doesn’t save him from Rami’s wrath when she discovers he’s been pleasuring himself to her sex video. Spoiler alert: that sex toy makes a comeback.
One assumes that audiences are meant to take some kind of satisfaction out of watching an abused woman turn the tables in a spectacularly vicious way, much as Jews were meant to feel good that Brad Pitt was beating the crap out of Nazis in “Inglourious Basterds.” Perhaps for some, that sort of sadism by proxy offers cathartic release; the problem is the rest of us, who just see it as indefensible torture. Tossing in a feminist poetry slam at the end possibly adds to the film’s aspirations to boho cool, though it’s just as unnecessary as the use of black-and-white for the opening credits.