Cast: Richa Chadha, Ratna Pathak Shah, Saiyami Kher, Gulshan Devaiah, Sumeet Vyas, Abhishek Banerjee, Lillete Dubey, Rinku Rajguru, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Ishwak Singh
Director: Nikkhil Advani, Avinash Arun, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Krishna DK, Nitya Mehra, Raj Nidimoru
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Massive beats of cymbals and chants of “go, Corona, go” – arguably the worst ways a nation can prepare for a fight against a pandemic – comes up with two of the shorts that are part of Unpaused, an Amazon Prime Video anthology of five lockdown stories from Mumbai. The sight of men and women out on their balconies drumming on collective cacophony to scare away the virus is a mirror of a society that needs little incentive to quit science.
In Tannishtha Chatterjee’s Rat-a-Tat, an elderly man calls the police to complain about a neighbor’s racketeering but the policeman refuses to acknowledge it. The collective clash of the thalide also features in Nikkhil Advani’s The Apartment, although the act has no direct bearing on the story of a woman pushed to the limit by her perfidious husband.
Apart from that, the opening of the anthology Glitch, directed by Raj & DK, without directly hinting at it, borrows some of the absurdity of India’s initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic to create a comical narrative about a man resorting to desperate measures in the face of the invasion of deadly microbes.
Chance encounters, lucky interruptions and class divisions are in the foreground Unpaused, filmed after the lockdown in controlled environments. When five directors – actually six because one of the shorts is directed by a duo – create films in isolation, tonal coherence is difficult to achieve.
One does not complain though. The diversity of approaches just makes up Unpaused it’s much more interesting since, at one time, you watch five distinct films on a common theme. It has it all: the bizarre and the straightforward, the deadpan and uplifting, the emotional and the provocative, the moving and the humorous. It encompasses a range of experiences that together serve to direct our attention to the impact the pandemic has had on lives and livelihoods.
The 113 minutes Unpaused, an original Amazon Prime, is bound by two dissimilar efforts. The three connecting shorts, while varying in style and essence, address what superficially appear to be shared concerns. They shed light on the social dynamics of the “new normal” and the hard-to-bridge gap between the haves and the haves, which the pandemic has exposed more cruelly than anything else.
The creators of Unpaused, however, they are not free to be on the streets to romance the desperation of migrants forced to return home during the blockade. But a couple of shorts touch upon the plight of the large unorganized workforce operating without a safety net in our heartless big cities.
In Glitch, the fallout of the pandemic receives irreverent treatment. Written by Reshu Nath, it’s a love story steeped in sardonic wit. A hypochondriac (Gulshan Devaiah) finds himself on a blind date with a deaf-mute “virus warrior” (Saiyami Kher), his exact opposite on the pandemic scale. His life as a cocoon is in danger of being interrupted.
The man is locked up at home, hidden. The woman is at the forefront of vaccine research, fighting. You might quibble that Glitch’s surrealism takes place in a kind of bubble, but it’s great to watch. Shot by Pankaj Kumar, it has a surprisingly bright color palette that not only gives the film an otherworldly vibe, but also increases the visual contrast between the two worlds colliding. Also, with the two characters using sign language to communicate, the performances draw on elements of mime.
Unpaused closes with Chand Mubarak, a completely different kettle. But even this short has two people with divergent perspectives on the block. Directed by Nitya Mehra (also co-writer with Vidur Nauriyal and Tarun Dudeja), the short features a superb Ratna Pathak Shah as a woman living alone. One night he goes to buy some medicine. A policeman stops her because she is particularly vulnerable to the virus.
The lady is packed in a three-wheeler. The driver’s driver (Shardul Bharadwaj), a migrant from Bijnor, is unable to return to his wife and two daughters for Eid. An unlikely bond develops between the two – an old maid with no family and a man separated from her family – and each begins to understand a hitherto unknown world. It turns out they share a love for the Sufi mystic Amir Khusro (Chaap tilak sat chheeni mose naina milaike plays on the soundtrack, transporting the audience to another environment).
Vishaanu by Avinash Arun Dhaware, with Abhishek Banerjee and Geetika Vidya Ohlyan as a couple from Rajasthan, evicted from their home for not paying the rent. They sneak into a sample apartment – it’s in an unfinished skyscraper on the construction site they worked on until the pandemic made them jobless. Hunger now stares them in the face but the two try to make the most of their time in the luxury apartment.
Three of the films – Rat-a-Tat, the apartment is Chand Mubarak – about a woman whose life is altered by a younger person who accidentally enters her life. In Tannishtha Chatterjee’s film, written by Devika Bhagat, a grumpy 65-year-old woman (Lillete Dubey) responds coldly when a young neighbor (Rinku Rajguru) asks if the former needs help. But an accident triggers a long meeting between the two women, thrilling the older one to reopen a chapter from her past.
Advani’s film centers on a successful media entrepreneur, Devika (Richa Chadha), whose husband Sahil Khanna (Sumeet Vyas), the editor of the magazine he owns, is accused of sexual misconduct in the workplace. Self-harm is his first reaction. And then, an intruder (Ishwak Singh) rings the bell. Man has other ideas. But does Devika have the patience to listen to him?
Like a freewheeling reflection on loneliness, anguish and lingering hope, Unpaused, backed by a number of outstanding performances, is a pertinent commentary on a pandemic and its depredations. Significantly, at least three of the shorts (Chand Mubarak, Rat-a-Tat is Vishaanu) have the potential to resonate beyond the turmoil unleashed by a deadly virus and face masks, disinfectants and disinfectants.
While emphasizing the personal, these films also highlight the social and, tangentially, the political. Any favorites? For technical panache, Glitch is Vishaanu. Basically, Chand Mubarak is Rat-a-Tat. Highly recommended.