March 30, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Nandita Das
Hindi with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in Bhubaneswar, India, the dramatic film “Zwigato” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A husband and wife struggle financially with part-time “gig economy” jobs after the husband loses his full-time job as a factory manager.
Culture Audience: “Zwigato” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching “slice of life” dramas about working-class people.
Within the “slice of life” format of “Zwigato,” this drama takes an unflinching and critical look at “gig economy” jobs that can cross the line into worker exploitation. Don’t expect any absurd melodrama in this realistic but somewhat meandering movie. The acting performances are admirable, even if some parts of “Zwigato” get repetitive. “Zwigato” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
Directed by Nandita Das (who co-wrote the “Zwigato” screenplay with Samir Patil), “Zwigato” is named after the food-delivery company that employs the movie’s male protagonist for most of the story. It’s a company that’s similar to Uber Eats, Grubhub and DoorDash, where customers order food for delivery on an app. The food deliverers then get ratings from the customers. These ratings directly affect the salaries and employee evaluations for the food deliverers.
In the beginning of “Zwigato” (which takes place in Bhubaneswar, India), Manas Singh Mahto (played by Kapil Sharma) has lost his job as a manager of a factory. Manas and his wife Pratima (played by Shahana Goswami) live with their son Kartik (played by Parjwal Sahoo), their daughter Purim (played by Yuvika Brahma) and Manas’ elderly mother Mai (played by Shantilata Padhy), who has some health problems. Kartik is about 12 or 13, while Purim is about 10 or 11. As a factory manager, Manas made enough money to support his family, while Pratima was a homemaker. However, with the loss of his job, Manas and Pratima have to scramble to find work.
The only job that Manas can find at the moment is as a Zwigato delivery person. Meanwhile, Pratima finds part-time work as a masseuse (she has previous experience) and later as a cleaner at a shopping mall. “Zwigato” shows the trials and tribulations that each spouse has adjusting to their new jobs, although the vast majority of the scenes are focused on Manas. The money that the spouses make can barely pay their bills. And as their financial problems increase, so does the strain in their marriage.
Pratima starts off optimistic that her masseuse work will be a pleasant experience. She begins with wealthy people as clients. But over time, she finds out that some of these wealthy clients are very demanding and unreasonable. At one job where she has been hired to give a young woman a massage, Pratima has some transportation problems and has to rush to get there on time. When Pratima arrives, she is told by the woman’s mother that Pratima’s services are no longer needed. Privately, the spoiled young woman told her mother to fire Pratima because Pratima looked “too sweaty.”
Manas’ problems with Zwigato have to do with unreasonable customers too. But there’s also the company-wide issue of Zwigato making their delivery people pay their own costs for transportation. Manas and the majority of the employees use gas-powered vehicles. And the cost of gas can be up to 40% of their Zwigato salaries.
The movie shows how Zwigato offers the employees an enticing solution to the gas expense problem: At an employee meeting outdoors (with a guest appearance by actress Gul Panag, playing a version of herself), she introduces an electric motorbike that the company is offering to employees—for a price. The price is more than what the average individual Zwigato employee can afford. The movie shows how the employees, including Manas, overcome that challenge.
“Zwigato” doesn’t reveal anything new or surprising about the employee issues that come from “gig economy” work. The employees are often underpaid and overworked. And because they are considered “independent contractors” by their employers, these employees are not given employee benefits such as health insurance or pensions.
Manas feels the pressure and starts to question if working for Zwigato is worth the hassle and the stress. After he gets a false complaint from a customer, the low rating leads to Manas getting temporarily suspended, and he doesn’t get the support and fair treatment that he expects from the company’s management. When he meets with a Zwigato regional executive (played by Sayani Gupta) to ask for an investigation and to reinstate his good employee rating, she is dismissive and tells Manas that he should feel grateful that the company hired him because he can be replaced by many other people who want the job.
“Zwigato” doesn’t make any particular person a “hero” or a “villain,” but the movie repeatedly shows how people can get trapped and burned out in this type of work, which tends to have high turnover. They spend so much time doing these low-paying jobs that it often becomes difficult to have the time to find better-paying jobs. And they hang on to the “gig economy” jobs out of financial necessity or desperation, while the companies they work for get rich. “Zwigato” doesn’t offer any solutions to the age-old issues of the “haves” and the “have-nots,” but it does offer a well-depicted look at a family affected by “gig economy” work, which this family did not want but was forced to take in order to survive financially.
Viacom18 Studios released “Zwigato” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on March 17, 2023.