Directors: Avinash Arun, Raj & DK, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Nikkhil Advani, Nitya Mehra
Cast: Abhishek Banerjee, Geetikya Vaidya Ohlyan, Gulshan Devaiah, Saiyami Kher, Rinku Rajguru, Lilette Dubey, Richa Chadha, Sumeet Vyas, Ishwak Singh, Shardul Bhardwaj, Ratna Pathak Shah
All the five segments of Unpaused, India’s second lockdown-themed anthology movie, feature plush residences. A state-of-the-art apartment, fully-equipped to serve as a lifelong quarantine facility, safely cut-off from the city’s squalor and its everyday miseries. A sprawling vintage bungalow. An empty but elegantly furnished highrise apartment.
People crossing their personal or class boundaries to find companionship is the prominent theme of the anthology. But this display of luxury remains as a constant in the shorts, like a metaphor for the self-contained worldview of the filmmakers who airbrush the filthiest part of the Covid-19 pandemic-induced lockdown out to narrate easy, multiplex-friendly stories that end on a positive note.
The sole exception is Vishaanu, directed by Avinash Arun, where the characters’ relationship with an upper-class apartment they have illegally sought refuge in during the lockdown is central to the story. The government has offered no solution to the migrant labourers’ crisis during the pandemic. A working-class family from Rajasthan, homeless and unable to hitch a ride to their native village, finds an empty posh apartment to hide in. As food starts running out, the husband (Abhishek Banerjee) frantically looks for ways to get out of the city. Meanwhile, the wife (Geetika Vaidya Ohlyan) finds a strange sense of contentment in the new space. Arun delicately weaves in two narratives into this short ﹣one, of systemic apathy, India’s class divide and the hypocrisy of charity, and another, on the chasm between the young couple’s desire for a life where they could be a normal family cooped up in a house and their reality. Performances are topnotch. The camera (cinematographer Navagat Prakash) glides through the rooms of the apartment, quietly watching or spying on the couple as they squat on the floor cooking and dining, and nervously discover the privileges of life in a class where they are treated only as parasites. Arun doesn’t try to give the couple’s story a touch of a fairytale. In the end, the camera is on the road, at the beginning of a long walk to an uncertain future.
The first of the five segments, Glitch, directed by Raj and DK, imagines a future where vaccines have failed and as a result, humanity is living with the Covid virus. Centred on a rich software engineer who suffers from hypochondria (Gulshan Devaiah) and a doctor (Saiyami Kher)﹣a Covid warrior, the film narrates a lighthearted story that states that even in a new world designed and run by the virus, the demands and crises of human relationships remain the same. The absurdly lavish production design and the cinematography that uses a lot of pop colours partly redeem the film’s predictable pattern.
Tannishtha Chatterjee’s Rat-a-Tat features two interesting performances, by Rinku Rajguru and Lilette Dubey. But the film has the weight of a brand commercial that uses the pandemic to sell tea. Two women, neighbours in a vintage bungalow, who belong to contrasting social backgrounds and age groups bond over loneliness. They listen to classical music and watch the rain, engage in long conversations about life and men, giggle, cook and dine together. It is a moving film but pointless for its refusal to deal with the common theme in a more adventurous fashion.
Nikkhil Advani and writer Samyukta Chawla Shaikh ask a pertinent question in his short Apartment, starring Richa Chadha, Sumeet Vyas and Ishwak Singh. The world is going through a crisis that requires all the attention but does that mean cases of human rights violation and sexual abuse should be left unattended? The short begins well, frequently cutting to flashback scenes that detail the collapse of the marriage of a high-profile couple who own and run a top media house. The husband has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, all of them junior journalists in their office. He gaslights the wife when she confronts him, pushing her to contemplate suicide. This is the weakest and the least cinematic segment in the anthology. One of the main plot points bears an uncanny resemblance with a scene from a recent Korean thriller. Unable to tie the ends together, Advani recreates a Kal Ho Naa Ho scenario where an upbeat spiel makes the hardest problem vanish.
Rafiq (Shardul Bhardwaj), an auto-driver, and Uma (Ratna Pathak Shah), an anxious passenger, have few things in common. But, over the course of a few days, they sense and acknowledge the warmth and scars in each other. Nitya Mehra’s Chaand Mubarak is a well-written and smartly executed short-film that uses the same setting as the other shorts but achieves superior results because it doesn’t seek to paint the world in rose tint. There is a great sense of restrain in both, performances by the lead actors as well as Mehra’s direction. Shah helps the audience see the vulnerability in Uma’s frigidness. Shardul’s performance as an untrained, heartfelt quality. The characters (and the film) do not pretend that class differences and prejudices can be erased in a moment. For the most part of the film, he is on the driver’s seat of his autorickshaw and she, on the passenger’s, leaving a respectful distance between them. When they reach out to each other, it doesn’t appear like an act of benevolence but an organic act that arises out of the basic human need to make a connection with a fellow being.
Unpaused in streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
The Unpaused review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreenindia.com and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.