Film: Zwigato. Duration: 104 minutes.
Director: Nandita Das. Cast: Kapil Sharma and Shahana Goswami.
Cinematography: Ranjan Palit. Music: Sagar Desai/Hitesh Soni.
IANS Rating: ****
New India is multi-faceted, multi-optional with many of the well-heeled being spoilt for choices while choosing a vocation. But despite all the so-called growth, several other categories of middle-class young men and women reel under pressure to find themselves age- and skill-appropriate employment.
For the Alpha generation, the e-commerce food delivery companies are a blessing, for they cater to the needs and orders of the customers who are more demanding and have more convenience and control over how and when they order their food. But that's for the customers; the employees of such businesses face the brunt of it.
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A double-edged sword for the unemployed in India, the sudden thriving numbers of delivery services have led to a Catch-22 situation. They have, in some ways, generated some income for those out of jobs, they barely earn the 'delivery boys' the respect that they deserve.
Nandita Das's third directorial (after the critically acclaimed 'Firaaq' and an equally sensitive 'Manto'), 'Zwigato' encapsulates all the alternating vicissitudes that India and its economy are facing today. She narrates a story without being overly judgemental and leaving the harsh and ugly realities as also the unmasked emotional moments as they ought to be.
That Nandita Das, an accomplished actor-director, would come up with a story that makes it compulsive viewing is a given. What is pleasantly surprising is the subject she has chosen as the theme of the film.
By using a trope that India is too familiar with -- namely, the food delivery apps, she lays bare the challenges of common people in a social milieu that offers few options for strugglers. One gets to see an underlying political stagnation as well. Without being preachy, she lets the viewers figure out for themselves the ups and downs of the unbalanced society we live in.
At the heart of the 104-minute narrative is Kapil Sharma, who plays Manas Mahto, a migrant from Jharkhand, who along with his wife Pratima (Shahana Goswami), two children and ailing mother, comes to an expanding Bhubaneswar to explore possibilities of a decent life.
Losing his floor manager's job in a firm, he finds nothing substantial and is forced to work as a food delivery rider, grappling with the app on his phone and the world of ratings and incentives. His everyday struggle is painful as he tries hard to cope with keeping perfect timing for deliveries to make ends meet.
Manas isn't alone fighting for survival; Pratima too, not content with being just another homemaker, looks around for different work opportunities to support her husband's income. And so, from being a masseuse for rich women to a cleaner at a mall, she tries her hand at everything. At the heart of her efforts is a tremendous will and desire to better their lives.
In a scene when the couple gets to know that Manas's elder brother and family would be visiting, she decides to stitch together old sarees and bedsheets to partition the single room they have so that the visiting family could have a separate area to themselves. She tries to accommodate her guests wholeheartedly, not letting her extra work come in the way of her eagerness to be hospitable.
Manas, in the meantime, faces a number of hurdles while making an all-out effort to earn just Rs 15 per delivery. There is an instance when a couple erroneously orders 20 pizzas amid revelry at an apartment. When Manas arrives with the order, he is greeted with liquor bottles and other remains of the party, and even treated most shabbily by the owner of the flat, who asks him to leave just two pizzas and take away the rest.
The place that the couple live in isn't even a proper house -- it is at best a makeshift living arrangement -- but it abounds in the warmth of a home. Manas and Pratima and even their daughter unhesitatingly clean up the indisposed bedridden mother, whose problem of incontinence is never grudged, or is allowed to become an irritant. Each member of the family just performs his or her duty unquestioningly.
Manas and his ilk, who are almost enslaved by their ruthless employers, merely play along without asking any questions. If there's one thing that irks Manas, it is the thanklessness with which he is greeted by customers. Not that he shows any displeasure openly.
At best, he retorts to a caption that says "Mazdoor hain tabhi majboor hain!" (We are poor labourers and hence vulnerable and defenceless!) with the moan, "Majboor hai tabhi mazdoor hain" (We are helpless, therefore we are labourers!).
On the face of it, the film presents itself as a story of an easy-going man who doesn't let his frustrations get the better of him too often, except, perhaps, when his dignity is threatened to be compromised. A sharp comment here and an oblique -- at times direct too -- hint many a times at the class divide that's so apparent in India, makes the film a much layered and incisive attempt.
Kapil Sharma as Manas lives the role not once falling prey to his much-adored status as the undisputed king of comedy. Viewers will be in for a pleasant surprise to see him stripped of his image that has earned him millions of fans worldwide. He slips into the character of Manas with such ease that it may force his admirers to do a double take. At places he performs like a seasoned actor.
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His co-actor Shahana Goswami as Pratima is note-perfect and lets much of her silences and pauses speak for her undeniable talent as a consummate actor. If Kapil slips into playing Manas effortlessly, she, on her part, brings quiet dignity and unreserved sensitivity to her role. Cameos by Sayani Gupta and Gul Panag, though minuscule, are extremely believable too.
Photography by Ranjan Patil is understated, letting the unpretentious backdrop of Bhubaneswar convey the striking contrast between the grime and occasional pallor of Manas and Shahana's life and the dazzle of the sprawling malls alongside.
The film is a social commentary, but it doesn't leave any didactic message for viewers. But if there's anything as a takeaway, it would make arrogant and affluent consumers of home deliveries give a serious rethink to their sense of entitlement when they come in contact with porters, carriers and delivery men.