“Zwigato”

This film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival

“Zwigato” starts with a title card that declares it “a work of fiction based on a thousand true stories.” This one line perfectly encapsulates the essence of director Nandita Das’ film about gig economy workers in India. The story is one of social hierarchy, wealth, status, and the determination to do whatever is necessary to make ends meet and provide for your family.

Set during the COVID pandemic, Manas (Kapil Sharma) has recently lost his steady job as a factory floor manager. With positions becoming more scarce and zero leads, he has no choice but to start driving for a food delivery app, Zwigato. As he rushes around the busy city streets on his motorcycle, Manas has to compete with dozens of other drivers, deal with demanding customers, and accept unfair business practices from company leaders because – as they relish in telling him as often as possible – he’s lucky simply to have any form of employment and income.

Das and co-writer Samir Patil’s story captures the realities many gig economy workers face, especially as those struggling financially often end up falling for the fantasy of being their own boss and setting their own hours, only to find very little in their pocket at the end of the workday. As Manas continues his daily grind, he’s worn down by doing work that’s not fulfilling for a company that gets richer by standing on the backs of their hardworking employees (let’s call them what they really are: independent contractors).

The film doesn’t have a lot of story (I wish the script had explored the rights of workers and solidarity angle a bit further) but is a narrative that feels built around common complaints from delivery drivers. Watching order after order go wrong for Manas isn’t amusing, but sad. There are scenes of verbal abuse by customers, being devalued by the company and even the restaurants he serves, and making pennies on the dollar for a stressful and laborious day of work. It’s unfair, we all know it, and watching a movie about it doesn’t make anyone feel good.

Sharma, one of India’s most popular comedians, gets to do something a bit different here, showing off his acting skills in a dramatic leading role. His performance is effective and impressive, but those expecting a funny comedy are in for a rude awakening.

“Zwigato” ends on a positive, feel-good note, but the majority of the film’s message is discouraging and a bit pessimistic. It’s not enjoyable or lighthearted escapism, but the film proves no matter the country or culture, some problems are universal.

By: Louisa Moore

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