A still from ‘Garbage’.
A still from ‘Garbage’.

Director Q: We are living in very bad times

The iconoclastic director returns with his latest film, Garbage

Director Q is angry, though he may not seem like that in person, affable and soft-spoken as he is. However, his anger has shaped his latest film, Garbage, whose script is strung together with shocking vignettes inspired by current events. What is perhaps the most political of his films to date, Garbage, which premiered on 17 February in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival, is replete with disturbing imagery, yet raises important questions about deconstructing masculinity, casual misogyny, sexism and racism, female sexual liberation and unbridled religious fanaticism.

Speaking on the sidelines of the festival, Q weighed in on what attracts him to subjects from the fringes and how Garbage came about after a personal tragedy. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What sets ‘Garbage’ apart from the rest of your movies? The disclaimer at the beginning of the movie says, “Although all the events are dangerously true, this is a work of fiction."

I think Garbage is the most direct of my movies. So far, I have been using an anarchic language to conceal the political intent in my movies by employing satire and other tools to get across the message. In Garbage, I had to take up a more straightforward approach. Everybody in the film is really messed up in their own way. Except for the Adivasi girl in the film, Naanam, who is the only symbol of innocence.

The director Q
The director Q

I had to spend a lot of time shaping the narrative, so the viewer can empathize with the messed-up characters in the movie. Born as a Brahmin middle-class boy from Calcutta (now Kolkata), I come from a place of privilege. My parents never practised religion. My father was a staunch atheist and that’s where I get my philosophies from. So I had to work hard to create believable characters—the religious fanatic, the victim of revenge porn, the unflinching Hindu ideologue of a godman, etc.

Coming back to your question, Garbage’s disclaimer is a play, a subversion of the general disclaimer. It may sound like it’s not true, but it is. Which is why the current news events, like the (journalist) Gauri Lankesh murder, were immediately accommodated into the script. In a way, Garbage is part documentary, part feature film.

How did ‘Garbage’ come about?

Like every other death, this was also quite bloody. A friend of mine, an independent perfume specialist, who was living in Goa, was raped and murdered in a brutal manner. I didn’t know her very well, we were neighbours, and we had just met. I was getting to know her when she was killed in her apartment in a gated community with security guards where she moved in specifically because she was paranoid about safety.

This was the shocking event that gave birth to Garbage. I examined this incident along with other friends and got to know all the gory details. From that night, the story started developing. Another friend, Priya, wrote a brutal poem about the state of female sexuality in India in the aftermath of the murder, and I incorporated it in the movie.

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What is it about topics and characters from the fringes that attracts you?

As an artist in a country like India, I am an oppressed person who is working on topics that are anathema to society, like sexual identity. I understand exploring those topics is like opening a box filled with worms. And I love to do that. I consider myself to be a marginal character since I aspire to be one. I was born as a normal middle-class boy, but I altered my identity and became Q.

For 10 years, I worked hard to achieve that goal, to release myself of the identity I was carrying around. Of my name, of being Bengali, of being from somewhere. With Q, I was liberated. As a result, you throw stones at Q or you throw stones at (my film) Gandu (2010), nobody gets hurt. So, essentially, I’m playing a character in my life as well. Like Walt Whitman said, “I’m large, I contain multitudes." I feel very comfortable in that kind of identity shift. That’s why I always talk about the marginal because that’s the world I come from and that’s the world I know and am comfortable with.

About sexual identity, there is no other reality than sex, really. Our standpoint about sex is hyper-moralistic and patriarchal in nature, which is damaging for sexual liberation. It completely crushes the sexuality of the individual. Over and above, with the digital revolution, we are all having sex with our phones.

Can you talk a little bit about the casting?

I try to tell my story according to whatever resource I can find. I’ve worked with Tanmay Dhanania before and knew him well. Satarpura Das, who plays Naanam, is a model. I found her in Calcutta while making a music video. Trimala Adhikari was a casting decision. When the cast came together, I put them through a workshop in Goa, where most of the film was shot.

What do you think is the future for arthouse experimental movies like ‘Garbage’ in India?

I don’t see a very healthy future. We’re living in very dark times and this film is a testimony to that. Let’s not forget that things are only beginning to get worse. And we don’t have any reference to fight it.

Digital platforms are my home since I’ve always been a digital film-maker. I’ve always felt like an outsider because I’ve never been to a film school. I sometimes feel like an impostor too. I’m still trying to figure the craft out but I’m free from a certain form of devotional slavery. Perhaps that’s why I find my process far more liberating.

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