Hindi film Zwigato review
One of the ideas of good art is to throw light — ever so subtly — on the absurdities and ironies of life. And that is what Zwigato attempts to do. The story is about the paradox of food delivery persons, who these days are the most ubiquitous on our streets, but their living, which is at the mercy of algorithms and bots, is among the most invisibilized things to us.
This irony is further heightened by director Nandita Das’ creative choices. For one, the life of those who are literally zooming fast on our streets is shown in a deliberately slow-paced narrative. This adds a sense of melancholia without the need for pathos-demanding dialogues. Secondly, the casting of Kapil Sharma, essentially a comedian who generally talks 20 to a dozen, in a role that calls for hesitancy and emotional heft.
The sense of discomfiture this triggers in the viewers is the essential aim of the film (vis-a-vis the plight of the workers in the gig economy). Thirdly, even if gig workers’ job is to deal with humans, they need to be savvy with technology if they want to be rewarded by a system that values people through algorithms.
The slow unspooling story of Zwigato is about the life and family of Manas Singh Mahto (Kapil Sharma). The man, who lives in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, has just lost his job in a factory. And in the cash-starved pandemic times, he takes up the job of the food delivery person partner. While he is good at the job, he is not so good at using technology. He doesn’t ask for a rating from the customer. Nor does he rate them.
In a world ruled by algorithms, his good work goes practically unnoticed. Ergo, even the small financial rewards due to him don’t reach him. Poignantly, he has to be schooled by his kids on the use of technology. His family, comprising his wife, two kids and an ailing mother, cannot survive on his meagre earnings. His wife (Shahana Goswami) also takes up cleaning work and, on occasion, provides massages to women from rich sections of society.
Such a story of a struggling family and a heartless and exploitative corporate system can easily slip into the manipulatively maudlin and syrupy territory. But Nandita Das shows an enormously talented grip on the proceedings. She is content with telling a story at a pace that is dictated by it. The emotions and sentiments that follow are organic and understated. She even manages to contour the narrative with poignant subtle humour through crafty dialog.
The lead characters, as played by Kapil and Shahana, are able allies to Nandita. Kapil shows enormous restraint — something we haven’t seen him exhibit in his comedic shows — in a role that calls for understanding. If he had played the role either a notch lower or higher would have ruined it and come across as a burlesque act. But even better is Shahana Goswami in a role that is not exactly new on screens — a wife who has to chip in financially to run the family. Shahana shows great maturity, and her performance demands and gets empathy from us, which is the hallmark of good acting.
The fact that the story is situated in Bhubaneswar also helps, as the city in itself is a metaphor for the clash of old values against modernity.
All in all, Zwigato is a rewarding watch. But if you are impatient, the kind who gets angry if the food ordered through the app is delayed even by five minutes, this film is not for you. Your rating is for the algorithms. This film is about the rhythms of life.
An engineer-turned-journalist, K Balakumar’s career began in print publications as a sports writer. That also opened doors for other journalistic avenues like films, music, finance, technology and politics, which nobody can escape in India. After 30 yrs in mainstream journalism, now a freelancer for various digital publications.