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“I think every action is political. Not to do or say anything also reflects your politics”. Nandita Das 



Nandita Das To Direct Kapil Sharma

Zwigato…where and  how  did this saga  of  a delivery boy happen in  your head?

 During the pandemic, we consumers, for our own convenience, became more and more dependent on the gig workers and less and less aware of their struggle. The film is about many small things that are hidden in plain sight. Very few films are made these days about urban workers. Apart from being about the life of a gig worker, Zwigato is also about our normalized biases of class, caste, and gender. They have all subtly found their way into the film, making the invisible, visible. It began as a discussion about growing unemployment and the complexity of gig work with my publisher friend Samir Patil. We then began writing a short film about a day in the life of a delivery rider.

How  was  Zwigato received at  the Toronto Film Festival?

While the story of Zwigato is set in India, I was happy to see how the universality of the theme resonated with the discerning and diverse audience that the Toronto International Film Festival attracts. I make films because I itch to say something, and so the more people it reaches, the happier I am. Now we will soon be off to Busan. But what I am most looking forward to is to show it to the audiences in the country. And to the gig economy workers, whose story it is.

 Having been to so many festivals in the last 26 years, both as an actor and a director, I can say  with confidence that the reaction to a film tells me more about the person than the film. The film is what it is – good, bad, ugly. And I am my biggest critic. But when we watch a film, we connect to different aspects of it, based on our own life experiences and exposures. That’s why I rarely read my reviews or comments, except for the ones that come to me directly. I don’t want to be impacted by praise or criticism. The film is the best I could do in the given circumstances and I cannot change that now. So once the film is done, it belongs to the viewer. It is not for me to judge their response, one way or another.

How did  you find a  producer for this  out-of-the-box project about  a in-the-box delivery boy?

The  enterprising  Sameer Nair  of Applause  Entertainment   who agreed  to produce it, nudged me to expand it for a feature film. Initially I felt the subject would not immerse me enough, but as I began to delve deeper into it, I was drawn to the human aspects of this collision of new technology and the life of the workers, who are just a cog-in-the-wheel. I also began exploring what impact all this has on the family, especially the wife. With the rise of the gig economy, the struggle between man and machine that Chaplin depicted in Modern Times has now shifted to one between man and algorithms. So Zwigato is a story about the relentlessness of life, but not without its silver linings. The film explores the life of an ex-factory floor manager who loses his job during the pandemic. He then works as a food delivery rider, grappling with the app on his phone and the world of ratings and incentives. Simultaneously, his wife, a homemaker, begins to explore different work opportunities. But for her, the fear of this new life is coupled with the joy of a newfound independence.

This  is  your third directorial in fourteen   years. Why such  long spaces between  your directorial  assignments?

Acting, writing, directing and producing…all have happened rather organically. I just worked with my instinct, dipping into my life experiences and observations that have over the years, become an impulse. The compulsion to engage and find creative ways to share my concerns is what drives me. But I am not trained in any of them and so I take time to write and rewrite, put a project together and also I have done many other things in between the films in te last 14 years, including becoming a mother! But finally now, I am a less hesitant director. The gaps will be less now! Though I will continue to do other things, be it social advocacy work or acting. I have multiple interests and concerns, and I feel no pressure to prove myself.

 What made  you  select Kapil Sharma  as  the lead in Zwigato? It is  a very unusual  choice. Did Kapil live  up to your expectations?

 The pandemic’s dramatic impact on actor availability and shooting schedule over the past year had made casting for the film a nightmare. Then one day, Kapil Sharma popped up on my screen while I was surfing on the internet. I hadn’t seen his show, as I don’t have a TV for the last six years, but from the snippets I did see that his honesty, simplicity, and candour seemed perfect for the character. And so, I reached out to him on an impulse, not fully knowing if he would be right for the part or if he would even be open to doing a film that is not a comedy. He promptly responded and when  we met , I was convinced that he would perfectly represent the common man. Though he no longer was one in real life!

Did Kapil  turn out to be  the  right fit?

 He has a natural charm and he got into the skin of the character quite effortlessly. He is easy and friendly with his co-actors, disarming everyone around him. He had always told me that he would completely submit to my process and he truly did. But he has a very sharp mind and always questioned if something didn’t make sense to him or if he had an interesting suggestion. He is effortless and real in the film and I am so glad I went with my instinct.

 How do you view  the business  of movie making at this crucial stage  of its  existence when the OTT platform has  completely changed  the way we look at  cinema?

 It is true that OTT platforms have changed how we watch films. Like most new technologies,  there are some advantages and some disadvantages to it. It has made it possible for many filmmakers, actors and technicians to find work and the films now have a far wider reach. But as a filmmaker, I also want people to have an immersive, personal and collective experience of watching a film in a dark hall. Having said that, increasingly the economics of releasing films in theatres is becoming less and less feasible. For me, a combination of a theatrical release and OTT would of course be ideal. Though increasingly, audiences today are medium agnostic and are more driven by the story. I feel Zwigato, though set in India, is a global story, and we hope the film reaches out to as wide an audience as possible and that is what OTT platforms ensure.

 It’s been  twenty-six  years since  you started  your career as  a movie actress. How  do you  view your journey so far?  Which  among your  dazzling  performances, do you consider  milestones?

I consider Fire to be my first film as an actor. Before that I did very little film work which didn’t even get released.  In the last twentysix   years, I have done more than forty  feature films in ten  different languages. As an actor I got to be part of so many different stories, shot in quaint places in the country that I would have never seen otherwise and met varied people who have enriched my life. I gradually learnt the power of cinema, of story-telling. I have been fortunate to have worked with directors like Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Rituporno Ghosh, Mani Ratnam and many others. It is tough to be able single out names, as some are important to me because of the experience of working in them and some because of what the film had to say. Each of them gave me something precious that I took away with me. Much of my better work is in what we call regional films, which are just as Indian as are the Hindi films. At least today we get to see them more thanks to OTT platforms, but the ones I acted in was before there was social media and digital media. So apart from the names that you might know like Fire, Earth, Bawandar, Before the Rains, there were others like, Naalu Pennugal, Deveeri, Kannathil Mutha Mittal, Podokkhep and Amaar Bhuvan, that are important to my journey as an actor.   But in these twentysix  years, I have also directed three  feature films, three   shorts, served as the Chairperson of the Children’s Film Society, wrote a monthly column for eight  years, did a fellowship at Yale, raised a child who is 12 now…so acting has always been one of the many things I did and want to do. But if a great story, director and role, comes to me, I will surely make the time for it.

Tell me about some  of  your  dazzling performances in 1947 Earth, Fire  and Bawandar?

How can I say I gave  a dazzling performance in a film! It is for the audience to get dazzled or not. Also, not all performances can be termed dazzling and often the adjective has to do with the character one is playing. Immodestly speaking, in Fire I would say it was a more of an instinctive performance or in Bawandar, a powerful one. If I had to choose a character that was dazzling, I would say it was Shanta in 1947 Earth. Her character was both, innocent and sensual. And that combination unfolding through the powerful story to me had some dazzle!

 For you, politics has never been far removed  from cinema? How  do you see the  relation between the  two in these troubled  times?

 I think every action is political. Not to do or say anything also reflects your politics. In India we think being political is to side or oppose a political party. To be political simply means, to engage with the issues around us, to have a point of view. I strongly believe that stories have the power to help us explore life’s complexities with their many nuances, in ways social, economic or even news reports cannot. They humanise issues, making them personal and relatable. They help us question our prejudices and biases, they make us feel and think in ways that impact our responses. However, I try to stay away from “educating” or imparting “messages” through my films. I feel, they can at best, hold a mirror to the viewer. I am not interested in pointing fingers at anybody but I am keen on evoking empathy and telling stories about people that are vanishing from our collective consciousness. All three directorial films of mine attempt that. Also my upbringing, my background in social work, all that I learnt through my travel and work experiences would impact the choices I make thereafter.

 Tell us  about your  future plans?

Now that I have embraced direction less hesitatingly, I am going to be jumping into another film soon after Zwigato is released. And I am in talks for a few acting and direction projects. There is no dearth of work, but not all of it is good. After all it is one life, so I want to make sure I use my time well on this planet! But over the years, and more so after the pandemic, I have also learnt not to plan too much and be open to surprises and change. We are too insignificant in the larger scheme of things, so best to simply play our part as well as we can to make the world a saner, greener and better place for all.

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