Cast: Gulshan Devaiah, Saiyami Kher, Richa Chadha, Sumeet Vyas, Rinku Rajguru, Abhishek Banerjee, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Ratna Pathak Shah, Shardul Bharadwaj
Directors: Raj & DK, Nikhil Advani, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Avinash Arun, Nitya Mehra
The current pandemic of social isolation, lockdowns and curfews has also had a positive side. It’s got our imaginations flying, and movie writers and directors have come up with different ways to tell stories, keeping in mind its stifling limitations. Amazon Prime really scored here; some time ago it posted a Tamil anthology, Putham Pudhu Kalai, of five short films – each one about the terrifying times we live through. But these pieces were lighthearted, even funny, and acted as mood boosters!
Now Amazon Prime has given us another anthology, Unpaused – this time in Hindi with five episodes covering the pandemic months. And they are just as great as the work of the Tamils. Uplifting and captivating.
Glitch of Raj & DK is futuristic and takes place when Covid 30 hits the world. Gulshan Devaiah plays a hypochondriac man who meets a woman (Saiyami Kher) on a blind date, and they end up with a plastic sheet between them and talking to each other in sign language.
In Tannishtha Chatterjee’s Rat-a-Tat, an elderly woman (Lillete Dubey) is annoyed when people start beating drums and barrels to scare off the microbes. She is even angrier when her young neighbor (Rinku Rajguru) rings the bell and says she is mortified by the little rat in her apartment. The woman chases the neighbor away, but when she finds her on the landing the next morning, Dubey melts and a beautiful bond begins to form. I loved the way this short ending with the rat running out of the house! And then…
Another relationship is forged in Chaand Mubarak from Nitya Mehra: this time a highly unlikely combination, between an elderly person (Ratna Shah Pathak) and a young rickshaw driver (Shardul Bharadwaj). One night, the woman is lost on a curfew road while trying to reach a pharmacy when a cop stops her and admonishes her. People like you shouldn’t be outside these days, he tells her, and he calls an auto rickshaw to take her to a medical store. The woman is paranoid; she continues to sanitize her hands and panics when the driver takes a lonely shortcut. But in the end, trust develops when they tell their stories. He misses his wife and daughters in his village, and she is devastated after the death of her twin brother. A subtle ending highlights how the pandemic has taught us humility, love and caring.
Richa Chadha writes to a woman in The Apartment (by Nikkhil Advani), who is shocked by the sexual allegations against her husband, the editor of the magazine, and who is all set to hang herself from a ceiling fan in her flat when Ishwak Singh knocks on her door. She steps out of the chair and opens the door to a chatty benefactor. He says that water is leaking from her flower pot on her balcony in his apartment. He refuses to leave, and it’s only at the end that we know what his real intention was. The climax is just fantastic.
Director Avinash Arun is more direct in his Vishaanu in which a migrant family of husband (Abhishek Banerjee), wife (Geetika Ohlyan) and child is evicted from their home during the pandemic. They sneak into a genteel, empty house where the couple act out their fantasies. She lies in a bathtub, rose petals and all, dreaming of a life she saw in a glossy magazine. The man dances with her and makes videos on his cellphone. And then thunder falls, shattering their momentary magic. This episode reminded me of the Korean work, Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, which won four Oscars. Here too, an impoverished family finds a refugee in a palatial bungalow to fulfill their desires.
Unpaused is catchy. Most stories are new or, more importantly, told with a unique ease and in a wonderfully different way. Suspicion in times like these eventually gives way to trust and beautiful relationships are formed. Pathak’s panic (I call the police, they scream as the auto-rickshaw driver turns down a lonely road) slows down and turns into trust and camaraderie. In the end she gives him a gift, and the man is excited. Now you can see your daughters, she tells him.
Singh plays a different kind of hero in The Apartment, doesn’t break the door but rings the doorbell, distracts her from suicidal thoughts and wins over her. Life is to live.
Dubey’s stiffness softens as she sees the helplessness of the neighboring girl. I’m not afraid of lizards and cockroaches, but rats scare me, she begs. This turns out to be the start of a beautiful band!
Ideally suited for fine performances, finer storytelling style and pure novelty.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is a film critic and author of a biography of Adoor Gopalakrishnan)
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