Zwigato (2023) Movie Review: Measuring the success of a film is an easy task. A simple cost-benefit analysis to determine the return on the investment reveals a film’s material success. Its cultural success is revealed in its manifestation as a cultural symbol and the volume of discourse it triggers. When measured across a time horizon, cultural success or failure gets solidified. However, the complex task to perform is to measure the success of a film’s intentionality. It becomes all the tougher when intention(s) is ambiguous in nature.

That being said, Nandita Das’ Zwigato is an outcome of well-defined intention. It is driven by the urgency to invoke empathy for workers of the contemporary gig economy as it reveals the inherent cruelty of the system. It intends to establish that the gig economy isn’t a harbinger of autonomy for the working class, as popular discourse wants us to believe.

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Capitalist propaganda permeates every aspect of our life. It attempts to convince us that its current structures are liberating, that it has transformed itself to eliminate every feature that was exploitative or that condoned exploitation. The truth couldn’t be further, for contemporary capitalism is merely a reconfiguration of exploitative orthodox capitalism. The liberation it provides is faux because it determines what liberation should mean within the system.

Therefore, when forces of late capitalism invaded developing nations to exploit the potential markets, they converted individuals into passive consumers and sold them a self-deprecating ideology as a way of life: consumption being synonymous with development. A regular individual born in a developing nation left impoverished by active and covert imperialism by the Global North is now made to believe that accumulation of the material is the path of development. The cunning nature of late capitalistic forces is revealed in their denial of social security to their workers. And the denial is evident in the push for a gig economy, being touted as an alt economy to gain currency in policy making.

The gig economy promises continuous employment uninterrupted by market conditions and artificial crises. It promises the gift of autonomy to those who want to join it. It is also audacious in its invisibilisation of class because the workers are no workers but partners, with equal stakes in the business and equal claims to rewards. But the rosy picture it paints has no credibility, to begin with.

Zwigato’s importance in today’s climate is derived from its criticism of this alternate economy that has the potency to break the illusion. Most of which was public knowledge, albeit in a fragmented manner, has now taken the shape of a narrative. It is utilizing the storytelling apparatus to universalize a class experience in a politically volatile climate. The form renders the fragmented public knowledge communicable and accessible. My admiration for the film is rooted in its intention.

When I left the film theatre, the first thing I felt compelled to do was to provide a 5-star rating to all the delivery persons who have delivered me food and groceries recently. As I write this, I am reminded that I must do the same to all the drivers who drove me to various destinations as needed. Perhaps this sentiment is an indicator of the success of the film’s intention. But does this indicate the success of its form? I am afraid not.

I am not a purist who advocates the cause of getting characters of a certain ethnic identity to be portrayed only by actors of that identity, but every time a film with characters from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand comes, I am forced into a purist stance. All the accent training for actors signed to play characters from the region mentioned above revolves around a handful of stereotypes, such as people from the aforementioned region will pronounce “form” as “phorum” because they can’t utter the sound of “r” in conjunction with another consonant.

These people necessarily replace every “v” with “b” and incorrectly pronounce every English word. All these stereotypes getting carried on and on, even in films of sensitive filmmakers, is a disheartening sight. And another major corruptedness is how cinematic portrayals continue to be incorrect and heavily prejudiced against a class.


High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

Cinema in India has largely been terrible at portraying poverty and scarcity, even when the majority of cinema in the country has had protagonists from impoverished backgrounds. The template process is to strip an individual or a household of nuances of the human condition and thwart them into a state of constant despair; allow all of their life events to be guided by desperation; remove all types of long-term reliefs and/or peacefulness; detach financial capital from social capital and try not to address caste-class congruence; and finally, create experiential anxiety from the social state of being of your poor characters.

These features in the portrayal of the poor in cinema not only amount to misrepresentation but become an active violation of the dignity of the poor in many places by making them subjects of pity for the audience’s voyeuristic gaze. This is why Pratima, played by Shahana Goswami, is always scared, and Manas, played by Kapil Sharma, is always irritated or hesitant. Their poverty overshadows every ounce of their living, and the characters become unidimensional as they inhabit the narrative.

Nandita Das’ social awareness does no good in bringing to life the sheer nuance of human life contextualized by class hierarchy. And I am reminded of Ken Loach’s cinema when I say this. Nandita is as empathetic as Ken is, but she fails to rid herself of the burden of emancipation of her characters striving for life. She operates with the idea that the story is emancipatory as it is an expression of truth; it is important for the world to know these people’s economic desperation and the system’s ruthlessness in enabling it.

On the other hand, Ken never assumes the position of an emancipator. His films are an attempt at truth-seeking by virtue of which they become expressions of truth. He lies on an equal footing with his characters because his commentary is singularly focused on systemic violence. He doesn’t intend to shake his audience into kindness as Nandita tries to do with Zwigato, but he removes all differences between his protagonists and the audience to tell the audience that we are the same people.

Therefore, when a moment of life is accorded to the protagonists in Zwigato as it comes to a conclusion, it is not registered as a routine element of lived human experience but as a conscious insert to pass the statement that happiness is not a monopoly of the rich. Even a moment of life starts to feel like a commentary, with an argument coded into its aesthetics.

Life does continue as the endnote of the film reads, but the life within the film is an engineered statement, and the characters are the vessels to communicate the same. This type of form for a film fails to eliminate the lopsidedness in the power dynamic between the filmmaker and the subject and ends up reinforcing the hierarchy the film argues against.

As I conclude my take on Zwigato, I must mention that I do not undermine the film’s merit and otherwise importance. My intention is to elaborate on the inefficiency of the form arising from the filmmaker’s gaze. I must also not forget to mention that Kapil Sharma surprises me with a very natural performance that makes him look like a seasoned actor and excites me at the prospect of him working in more non-commercial dramatic roles.

Related Read:  Selfiee (2023) Movie Review: A Typical Bollywood Remake that Works in Parts due to Sachy’s Brilliance

Zwigato (2023) Movie Links: IMDbRotten Tomatoes
Zwigato(2023) Movie Cast: Kapil Sharma, Shahana Goswami, Tushar Acharya

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