Of late, crime, politics, corruption and hate have been leaking out of every streaming platform.
By the time Garmi drops, fatigue has already set in, observes Deepa Gahlot.
For most directors, the first film must mean something special. But not everybody gets a chance to revisit it.
Tigmanshu Dhulia's 2003 film Haasil took a look at campus politics in Uttar Pradesh. Twenty years later, he goes back to it in his Web series, Garmi.
When Dhulia made Haasil, the idea was novel, the treatment was hard-hitting, the still raw actors (Jimmy Shergill, Hrishitaa Bhatt, Irrfan) worked well for the subject.
Of late, crime, politics, corruption and hate have been leaking out of every streaming platform. By the time Garmi drops, fatigue has already set in.
So no matter how straight-from-the-headlines the story telling and how authentically recreated the milieu, the first reaction is dismay -- another show about gang violence and machismo in Uttar Pradesh?
Arvind Shukla (Vyom Yadav), from a middle class Lalgunj family, is the hope of his parents and two sisters, that he will study political science at Trivenipur University, pass the UPSC entrance exam, get into the civil services and raise their standard of living.
On his first day in the new town, he offers to pay the food bill of a man, and falls down a rabbit hole of casteist politics and unchecked anarchy.
The stranger happens to be a follower of Bindu Singh (Puneet Singh), the charismatic president of the student union, and helps Arvind get a hostel room.
This act of random kindness further entraps the earnest boy who only wants to study.
The leader who controls the university, has already written his way into electoral politics in the future, and wields a great deal of power.
Bindu has the backing of the town's corrupt cop Mrityunjay Singh (Jatin Goswami), who dreams of raising an army of Kshatriya boys to regain the glory of the caste.
Snapping at Bindu's heels is Govind Maurya (Anurag Thakur), the OBC student leader, who has the support of a religious guru and wrestling coach Bairagi Baba (Vineet Kumar).
They are all, without exception, venal and unscrupulous.
They extort and kill with impunity because even the chief minister needs the incendiary power of the hundreds of boys, who follow their leaders like sheep.
The tinder box of caste loyalty and greed can be ignited with the tiniest spark as Arvind discovers.
In the throes of young love, trying out the college production of Hamlet, learning English to improve himself, he watches in helpless horror as his girlfriend Surabhi (Disha Thakur) gets hounded to death by a group of wild, jeering, boys.
His rich friend Ajay Jaiswal (Dhirendra Gautam), whose father (Pankaj Saraswat) funds whichever side is winning, helps him to take revenge, which means Arvind has crossed the Rubicon, to become like those men he abhors.
Arvind might believe his fight is righteous but to those like Baba Bairagi and Mrityunjay, he is a pawn in the bigger game of power that they are constantly engaged in.
If they can use his popularity with the students to reach their goals, they are not averse to pulling strings -- whether it is to arrest and torture him or channel his rage for their purpose. As Bairagi says at one point, a leader who does not have a few criminal charges against him is just a social worker.
Rampant casteism and the breakdown of law and order in the north Indian states is constantly in the news. Dhulia, who has also written the show (with Kamal Pandey), is not showing anything the viewer does not already know.
It is tragic if young men have nothing to do except become goons or blind minions of those hooligans but even worse, if they are allowed to run amok.
There is a lip-smacking indulgence to the way gruesome violence is filmed, and it is done without taking a stance against the amorality.
There seems to be a tacit approval of the boys-will-be-boys viciousness, as if to say, if universities are hotbeds of politics instead of centres of learning, what is someone like Arvind to do?
His aggression is justified as a way to deal with his temper.
The narrator is a former student leader, Lal Bahadur (Satyakam Anand), who wanders around the university like a disillusioned ghost, and watches the destruction of hope and innocence.
In this universe, women have no place.
Bairagi always has three female musicians playing live for him at all times, which is actually more discomfiting to watch than the secondary position accorded to women, unless, like an belligerent poet, Sakshi (Apoorva Singh), she dresses and behaves like a man.
There is no punishment and no redemption because everybody is either weak or evil, only the degree varies.
The actors in Garmi -- mostly fresh faces -- are all sincere and do their parts well.
Vyom Yadav, Puneey Singh and Anurag Thankur stand out in a crowd of generically thuggish guys.
Mukesh Tiwari gets top billing for a brief and thankless role.
The entry of Pravessh Rana towards the end indicates a Season 2.
Hopefully, it will balance out some of the unsavoury excesses of the first season.
Garmi streams on SonyLIV.