Man Vs Algorithm: Filmmaker Nandita Das reveals dark secrets exposed by Kapil Sharma’s ‘Swigato’
New Delhi: It has been 87 years since Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” was released. The satirical black comedy told the story of a factory worker and his struggle to cope with the Great Depression in a modern, industrialized world. Only the means of exploiting the workers have changed.
For gig workers, conditions are worse because they are not full-time employees and have none of the benefits and security that a permanent job provides.
Filmmaker-actress Nandita Das’ new film “Swigato” tells the human story of a gig worker who works at a food distribution platform. Nandita told IANS that the idea for the film emerged during a discussion with her publisher friend Sameer Patil about growing unemployment and the complexities of gig work.
The filmmaker said: “We started writing a short film about a day in the life of a delivery rider. Sameer (Nair), the CEO of Applause Entertainment, who was to produce it, pushed me to expand it into a feature film. Initially, I felt the subject would not immerse me enough, but I gave it a shot. As I began to delve deeper, I became fascinated by the human aspects of this conflict of new technology and the lives of workers who were cogs in the wheel.
The gig economy has been around since the 21st century with the emergence of various types of freelance work, and of late, it has become mainstream with the advent of high-speed internet coupled with epidemics. Services like Zomato, Swiggy and Dunzo have not only comforted people but also boosted India’s GDP.
Every day, countless delivery partners and cab drivers ply the roads of Indian cities to feed people or help them with their transportation and deliveries. No matter the circumstances, inclement weather, traffic jams, festivals, the engine of India’s gig economy runs without fail.
But when one looks at the micro level, it paints a different picture of the humans behind this machine, and unlike the machines, humans face exhaustion, anxiety, stress and financial insecurity on the daily front.
Nandita said: “With the rise of the gig economy, the struggle between man and machine that Chaplin depicted in ‘Modern Times’ has now become one between man and means. So ‘Swigato’ is a story about the impermanence of life, but not without a silver lining.”
“During the pandemic, we, the consumers, have become more and more dependent on gig workers for our own comfort, and less aware of their struggles. We’ve all ordered during Covid-19, and we rarely thank or appreciate them or even acknowledge their existence. Despite being the trigger point, ‘Swigato’ is about normal biases of class, caste and gender.”
All these subtly find their way into the film, invisible and visible. And great credit goes to Nandita’s solid research work for incorporating these themes into the narrative. The team invested two years in researching the film. The more the mind brews primary data, the happier the output.
Nandita added: “Before starting the film, I understood the world of motivations and mechanisms just like my protagonist! As I delved deeper, I became more and more fascinated by what I learned about the gig economy. We gathered facts and personal stories by interviewing many riders. Their struggles, dilemmas, fears and aspirations helped me understand their world intimately.”
Nandita and her team spoke to former employees of food delivery companies and spoke to senior managers in the analytics industry of food delivery applications.
“These conversations helped us understand the changes in apps and algorithms and the thought process behind such changes. Although all these are not in the picture, it is important to understand how things work in the gig economy,” said Nandita. said.
“I was surprised that a small change in the size of the ‘zone’ where orders can come in — that invisible button we all click — makes such a big difference to them.
“The farther the deliveries are, the more the riders have to spend on fuel. They get petrol charges for going out of their zone but not for coming back, not just in India but everywhere in the world.”
When asked about his choice to cast a TV superstar in the form of Kapil Sharma for such a humanitarian story, he said that the decision was driven by his intuition. “Casting Kapil was not a dare, I found him to be natural, uninhibited and honest. I had never seen his performance, but I saw that he felt authentic and perfect for my character Manas.”
“I approached him on a spur of the moment, not entirely knowing if he would be right for the role or ready to act in the film. He responded immediately. The first time we met, we knew we wanted to work together. . Then we had many conversations and rehearsals, It made me believe that he perfectly represents the common man that he is no longer in real life,” Nandita told IANS.
Working with a superstar in this regard came without any limitations, he said, “Casting is very important in a film. If the characters are believable, the audience will take that leap of faith and travel with the characters on their journey. See. This part is really 50 percent acting. So that’s it for me.” Not a limit. And Kapil doing something different than what he was doing was really exciting and not limiting.”
For Nandita, the biggest worry was “not being able to bring out his (Kapil’s) Punjabiness”, but Kapil was up for the challenge.
On how they took care of the character’s linguistics, he said: “I gave all his lines in a Jharkhand accent, recorded by someone in Ranchi, in the correct dialect. Whatever, I didn’t want the accent to be too accented. Not only did Kapil do that, but his racing Punjabi should not be Eastern.” He spoke very slowly.”
The essence of Nandita’s film is empathy and she feels that it is unfortunate that empathy is not generally taught to us as children.
“Some of us were lucky enough to grow up in a very empathetic environment, and learned by watching our parents, friends and others show empathy. As our society becomes more consumerist and individualistic, we are likely to care less about others.” she said.
Nandita signed the trust note: “However, I believe most people want to be empathetic and when they watch a film like ‘Swigato’, it stirs something in them and creates a sense of empathy for the characters. That’s what I’ve got a huge response from, and the intention I’ve made with the film reaches the audience. Nothing warms my heart more than knowing that.
“Swigato” is now playing in theatres.