Qaushiq Mukherjee’s latest film Garbage , now streaming on Netflix, sets the stage with words that capture the screen. “Class and gender war is at its peak,” it says. “The battleground is mostly the Vagina”. As is typical of a film directed by Mukherjee, aka Q, the provocation is not only clear but also unsubtle. The film also dubs illiberal right-wing men, its misogynists-in-residence, as the chief reason behind the escalation. Garbage is only the latest, though perhaps the most inflaming, among a new crop of visual journeys that project conservative men as the bad guys, while purporting to sing paeans to feminism and liberal thought. Not too long ago, the Radhika Apte-starrer Ghoul (also on Netflix) followed a similar trajectory. Lost in their rhetoric and a strangely rigid liberalism, both Ghoul and Garbage suffer from the same lack of nuance that they accuse the other side of.

Set in Goa, Garbage brings together the lives of Phanishwar (Tanmay Dhanania), an ailing taxi driver who shadows as an online troll for a predictably fascist agenda, and Rami (Trimala Adhikari), a 20-something student trying to escape the fallout from a sexual rendezvous made public. The movie opens with the cabbie receiving the woman at the airport. Both look tired and tense from the outset. Phanishwar is shown as a staunch follower of a laughably anodyne religious guru, perpetually obsessed over the idea of women’s sexuality, and keeps in his house a mysterious, mute woman as a chained pet.

It is easy to see where Q — the maker of the comedy Brahman Naman, on three sex-starved college students hoping to lose their virginity, and the oddity Gandu, about a lonely rapper — is coming from. But equally disappointing it is to see where he is headed. While subtlety or subversiveness has never been his forte, his latest film seems even more skewed by the weight of its own idealistic hyperbole. The idea that sexism and patriarchy are the preserve of conventional or conservative men is a flawed one, to begin with. Dhanania’s character treats the mysterious woman in his house like a slave, but seemingly admires the progressive, urban Rami — in a later scene, he is shown pleasuring himself while watching her leaked video.

Ghoul , similarly, amounts to a charter of accusations against men on the right, and is near-sighted in declaring them as the only chameleons in sight. In a telling interrogation scene in the three-part series, the righteous Colonel Dacunha (Manav Kaul) snaps when a prisoner reveals that the army officer mistreats his wife.


Piled up: Garbage does have its moments, especially inits satirical take on fanaticism and trolls


Garbage does have its moments, especially in its darkly satirical take on fanaticism and trolls. In one scene, Phanishwar types hate comments from his social media account during a painfully audible session of bowel movements. Some of Q’s trademark exaggerations even work, as when Rami, during a particularly exotic encounter, realises what it means to be in a position — literally — of power in bed. But that is as far as the vision goes. Elsewhere it tragically limits itself to the kind of partisan commentary and metaphorical conceit that both sides accuse each other of.

The allegations of abuse levelled against #MeToo champion Asia Argento, for instance, bring to mind the old adage that “there are two sides to a coin”.

In Garbage , Q confers on Phanishwar the humanity of a fatal disease (cancer) just as Col Dacunha is allowed a vulnerability — a fear, both of the enemy and the consequences of his actions. In both Garbage and Ghoul , liberals are shown exhibiting the very same rigid tendencies that they are supposedly meant to rise above. So while both films shock on multiple counts, one can’t help but feel that they would have succeeded in conveying something more profound had they only looked inward.

Manik Sharma writes on arts and culture