Nandita Das delivering food for thought with the newly released 'Zwigato'
Nandita Das’s new film Zwigato exposes India’s unemployment problem through the story of a food delivery person, played by comedian Kapil Sharma
When life came to a halt during the pandemic, it was the healthcare professionals and food delivery personnel who continued to work relentlessly. The sacrifice and contribution of medical workers deservedly got media coverage.
The latter, however, drew little attention, and it is this gap that actor-director Nandita Das hopes to fill with her new film Zwigato released on March 17. The title is a portmanteau, combining the names of two leading food aggregators—Swiggy and Zomato—and the plot follows the life of a delivery man on and off the job, to shed light on the working conditions of those in the gig economy while exposing the larger unemployment problem.
“During the lockdown, these riders were ‘invisible’ and yet they were the service providers to the entire nation. These are not traditional working places, and there is no structure where it allows human interaction. I wanted to see how much of the peculiar aspects of the current times can be revealed through the story of a food delivery person,” says the actor-director, who has starred in 40 films, the most popular ones being Fire, Earth, Before the Rains, Provoked and I Am.
Zwigato, with its realistic theme and social message, is quintessentially a Das film. Where it raises eyebrows, however, is her unconventional choice of comedian and television actor Kapil Sharma as the film’s lead, vis-à-vis the star cast in her previous films, which included the likes of Naseeruddin Shah, Deepti Naval and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
Das admits that she had written the film with another actor in mind, but when the dates didn’t work, she reached out to Sharma “on an impulse”.
“Serendipitously a clip of Kapil and Karan Johar at an awards ceremony popped up. I thought here is a man who is natural and uninhibited. I watched a few other clips from his show and felt he would fit the character perfectly. I reached out to him, not fully knowing if he would be open to doing a film that is not a comedy,” she says, adding, “The subsequent interactions convinced me that he would be able to represent the common man. He has lived that life and I needed his vulnerability.”
Sharma is best known for his weekly television show, The Kapil Sharma Show. He has also starred in Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon (2015), and the 2017 film Firangi. Das’s debut as a filmmaker was the 2008 Hindi political thriller, Firaaq, which captured the horrors in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots. It bagged two National Awards.
She followed it with the equally powerful biographical drama, Manto, a decade later. Based on the life of the iconic poet Saadat Hasan Manto, the film recreated the milieu of post-independent India. “I hope to continue to tell many stories, each different from the other, but at the core, the concerns continue to remain the same,” she says.
The idea for Zwigato, which also stars Shahana Goswami, was originally meant for a short film as part of an anthology with four directors. Das says the producers, however, liked the story and it was expanded into a feature film.
“The script grew organically and became about the disparities also in gender, class, caste, and religion, which we have normalised. Everything is hidden in plain sight in an urban setting, and that is what I wanted to explore through this slice-of-life film without making it didactic or preachy,” she says. Before its theatrical release, the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was received with great acclaim. Das recalls the audience storming the venue to see “the Kapil Sharma”.
“After watching the film, many of them said they had forgotten who Kapil Sharma was,” Das says, adding that it was the best compliment she could have received.