Tigmanshu Dhulia is back in the classroom with his new show for SonyLIV. Garmi expands on ideas explored by Dhulia in his acclaimed directorial debut Haasil (2013) – the deterioration of campus culture, the takeover of student unions by political parties, the tussle between idealism and cynicism.

Arvind Shukla (Vyom Yadav) arrives at Trivenipur University (modelled on University of Allahabad) with every intention of completing a masters’ degree in political science and enrolling in the Indian Administrative Service. Hot-headed, quick to stand up for his rights but directionless too, Arvind gets easily sucked into a plot to win the student body election.

Could it be otherwise in the Badlands of Uttar Pradesh, where life is cheap and even a restaurant manager has a gun tucked away in his cash drawer? Arvind gets his real political education from two archrivals. One faction is let by Bindu Singh (Puneet Singh), the velvet-voiced associate of police officer Mrityunjay Singh (Jatin Goswami). The other group is headed by Govind (Anurag Thakur), the factotum of the politically connected Bairagi Baba (Veeneet Kumar) and his financier Jaiswal (Pankaj Saraswat).

Puneet Singh and Vyom Yadav in Garmi. Courtesy Playtime Creationn/SonyLIV.

A turf war over a lucrative civil works contract soon erupts into a bigger battle, with Arvind stuck in the middle and yanked this way and that. His only respite is his love for Surbhi (Disha Thakur) – one of the few feminine elements in an ultra-macho universe.

Garmi has been written by Dhulia and Kamal Pandey. The cauldron simmers with ingredients that include the role of caste in state-level politics, the shrinking impact of Leftist ideology, the Chanakyan deal-making to ensure power at any costs, high-level corruption, the murder of innocents, the exploitation of Dalits and police excesses. Mrityunjay Singh is a particularly odious law enforcement official who appears to have only one beat – the University and its environs.

A strain of (hopefully unintended) homophobia emerges in scenes that associate gay sex with criminal intent. There is needlessly graphic detail in a disturbing custodial torture scene and its aftermath.

The gratuitousness is visual and verbal. A small army of uninhibited nasties run about hurling bombs, discharging weapons, torturing their opponents and assailing our eardrums with the coarsest abuse the Hindi language has to offer. Bizarrely, none of the clamour reaches Arvind’s father (Harish Khanna), no news reports or WhatsApp forwards about his son’s increasingly high-profile exploits.

Anurag Thakur (centre) in Garmi. Courtesy Playtime Creationn/SonyLIV.

Garmi’s sprawl and the bustle cannot mask just how achingly familiar and simplistic the plotline is. By the end of the series, the promise of the early episodes, which give a clear sense of hope curdling into disappointment, has been lost, in the same way that Arvind has wandered off course.

Among the ideas that survive is the futility of youthful rebellion and a sense of the incurable rot that has spread through a once-prestigious institution and, by extension, the entire state itself. There’s really nowhere for Arvind to go but down. Garmi follows suit.

Dhulia directs the massive ensemble brilliantly, ensuring meaty moments for even minor actors. Among the principal actors, Puneet Singh, as Bindu, and Anurag Thakur, as Govind, are the most compelling. Jatin Goswami is frighteningly convincing in his eagerness to plumb the depths of depravity. Vyom Yadav, whose lanky frame and surly temper might remind us of another famous Allahabad angry young man, is a solid presence.

Garmi (2023).