As a result, the execution feels rushed, and the viewer is left searching for some heart in a body of inert film-making. For instance, the camera treats Manas as an afterthought in an event that features Gul Panag as a promoter of an electric bike. He’s just there, on the periphery, like an actor who hasn’t been instructed enough. She rides away while giving a demo, and it’s obvious that the scene isn’t really sure about how to end. Ditto for Manas’s passing role in the protests, where it’s clear that the film is trying to convey a political moment without compromising on the personal. (It also looks like the crew had a rough time shooting on location during the pandemic; the logistical challenges undercut the shaky-camera aesthetic). At another point, Pratima’s chatty massage on a Bengali client is flooded with the music from an ice-skating performance unfolding on the television screen. It closes with the athlete reaching a crescendo while Pratima looks on – a jarring attempt to shape a feeling that needs no sound. A bit of urban tokenism creeps into the final few frames of the film as well; a curated the-show-must-go-on vibe derails the dry continuity of the family.
What all of this does is prevent Zwigato from humanising itself. I’m not asking to be manipulated or moved by what’s happening on screen, but I was barely engaged. It’s one thing to be understated, it’s another to be underwhelming – and distant – for an audience that deserves a chance to detect the emotional integrity hidden within the sociopolitical integrity. The closest the film comes to this is when Manas visits a cyber cafe to buy a government form, only for half the (unemployed) locality to join under the pretext of helping him. An adult whose career is defined by an app watches, sadly, as the youth – now his competition – fails to spell “scheme” on the computer. Yet, seconds later, the scene collapses with all the clumsiness of a student leafing through books and newspapers to study for a practical exam.
Ken Loach has a way of constructing the humaneness of each moment; the social texture often supplies the intimacy of his characters. But Das forgets to bridge the gap between the two in Zwigato, making for a film that’s difficult to watch only because it’s one coat of paint away from being good. I was left with lessons about life in India, but very little learning about Indian living. After all, getting that parcel on time is futile if the food itself is bland.