Nandita Das brings her filmmaking magic back to the Toronto International Film Festival with her third feature film, Zwigato.
Honestly, after seeing her last feature film Manto (that too at the festival back in 2018), and having had a chance to talk to her about it, I understood immediately the unique perspective Das brought to the way she crafted stories. Manto was a fantastic film, and watching Zwigato at TIFF 2022 was a no-brainer for me.
The film follows Manas (Kapil Sharma) who becomes a delivery driver for a food-delivery app called Zwigato, after he gets laid off from his comfortable factory-floor manager job during the pandemic. He follows a strict routine, dealing with the pains of the gig economy, all while balancing his expectations at home. His wife Pratima (Shahana Goswami) wants to help where she can so she applies to become a cleaning lady at a mall, much to Manas’ dislike. However, as the stresses of work start to take a toll on him, he must put aside his old-fashioned ideas and consider much more important priorities in his life.
Zwigato sounds like a straightforward film, but it is not. It is layered with societal elements that many of us take for granted. It also touches upon the the lives of people who have been ignored, to an extent that we as a society have taken the humanity out of the equation entirely.
This is a film every person should watch
Whether using socioeconomic indicators, employment hierarchy’s or the plain old caste systems, we have always organized people into buckets. I hate the term lower class, but it is what society has used to define those people who have the lowest social rank due to their income, education or work status. This classing of people is not just predominant in South East Asia as highlighted by this film, but evident all over the world.
This film, in a very powerful and direct way, shifts the spotlight to the ignored lower class; and I don’t use ignored lightly. When was the last time you saw a cleaner and asked them how their day was or offered something to drink? This film is a stark reminder about how badly we treat a group of people, directly or digitally. Das uses a very free flowing narrative to help capture the world of the lower class, using Manas and his family as the vehicle for that narrative. As both him and his wife partake in the gig economy, something that has been prevalent in India long before apps, you get to see the way in which society interacts and judges their characters. I was getting emotional as the scenes unraveled, wanting to speak up at times, and then having to remind myself that I was watching a film.
With the Zwigato app at the centre of Manas’ world, the film also sparks a discussion about the impact of the digitally-powered gig economy. Das skillfully weaves in a nuanced narrative around the role of the app on society. While the film clearly positions the app as a income source to those in need, it also demonstrates just how much digital environments are further pushing the segregation of our communities, further taking advantage of the already disadvantaged for the betterment of the privileged.
Das also smartly weaves in social problems into the mix, including religion and caste problems. She doesn’t ever take sides, keeping the film as neutral and consistent as possible. She showcases how these working class people interact with their surroundings while keeping issues of today top of mind. I respect her for that approach as it made the film informative and not preachy, and gave us a platform upon which we could reflect.
Kapil Sharma delivers a solid performance
Talents who define themselves in one genre often find themselves stuck to that field. There have been so many discussions around Sharma doing such a different role and it being a deviation from his genre. He even brings up the repetitive discussions in our interview at the festival.
What I don’t get is the over discussion. Many comedians have tackled dramatic roles. In Hollywood, you have examples such as Steve Carrell and Adam Sandler. In Bollywood, Paresh Rawal and Nana Patekar come to mind immediately. While I was certainly excited to see a new side of Sharma and his interest in this new direction, the over-discussion felt like people didn’t have faith in him to deliver something new.
Let me address it once and for all: Sharma shines in this dramatic role, where he brings a gritty, edgy side to this character Manas. For a second, you forget he is one of India’s top stand up comics. Das has given his character dimension, capturing both his intellectual and culturally-engrained sides. Sharma delivers a performance that brings you right into his life, inviting audiences to understand him and his priorities, and what he truly feels in his circumstances today.
I foresee a very bright film future for Sharma who has the perfect persona to bring to life characters that feel grounded and relatable, one that audiences from all walks of life will appreciate and enjoy.
Shahana Goswami is an underappreciated talent
Goswami is hands down a star in this film. Das has crafted a strong, independent female character in Goswami’s Pratima. While she is burdened by responsibilities at home and lacks an education, she is the epitome of what can be done when you put your mind to it. She is the grounding force for Manas, and the catalyst for slow and steady change. She goes against cultural values to actually support her husband and not go against him. It is a character you cheer on, love, and hope for.
Goswami takes Das’ well written character and makes her shine. There is a uniqueness to her performance. She captures Pratima’s emotional fragility but also her rock solid belief in herself and her family. To be honest, without a performance like the one given by Goswami, I don’t think the family dynamics would have worked and as a result would have failed the films purpose of highlighting the struggles of the working class.
Das is a talented filmmaker who has a knack for capturing individual characters. I saw that in Manto, and I see it again in Zwigato. The film ditches all the cliché film stereotypes you would expect to find in a Bollywood film, and is a pure piece of independent Indian cinema powered by the best and the brightest. We don’t get enough of these types of productions, and when we do get them, we should cherish and enjoy them because they will share stories that you won’t see anywhere else.
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The film is beautifully put together. Ranjan Palit has done an excellent job with the films cinematography, supported by Jabeen Merchant’s editing work. Both individuals have captured Das’ creative vision, balancing pace while showing as many details as possible. I also felt the films score compliments the simple yet multi-faceted storyline, which keeps audiences engaged. Kudos to Sagar Desai on his work developing the films score.
You will relate Zwigato both emotionally and spiritually, and it will make you rethink your role in helping our communities move forward, grow and thrive. It humanizes the ignored lower class, a narrative that is vital now more than ever in an era of capitalism and one-click wonders.
Zwigato celebrated it’s World Premiere as part of TIFF’s Contemporary World Cinema programme at the 47th Toronto International Film Festival.
Cover Photo: Kapil Sharma as Manas in Zwigato | Photo courtesy of TIFF.