Movie Review: ‘Unpaused’ (Amazon Prime)

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Amazon Prime’s ‘Unpaused’ is an anthology of short films from some of the most interesting voices in Bollywood. Directors Raj & DK, Nikkhil Advani, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Avinash Arun and Nitya Mehra each present a short film about the life-changing circumstances of the current year. The pandemic isn’t over yet, but the stories have already started.

‘Unpaused’ starts off with its most imaginative film ‘Glitch’, filled with Raj & DK’s signature wit and charm. The duo, realizing that it might be too soon to laugh at our predicament, places their segment in the future – a time where our current lifestyle is routine. Ahan (Gulshan Devaiah) and Ayesha (Saiyami Kher) are set up on a virtual reality date, during which they realize they lead completely incompatible lifestyles. Gulshan Devaiah is a funny man, and luckily he has funny material to work with as well. But underneath the (much needed) comedy is a story about the loneliness of our online lives, the irreplaceability of physical contact.

Nikkhil Advani’s ‘Apartment’ brings us back to 2020. Set during the lockdown, it explores the effect of isolation on pre-existing emotional turmoil. Devika (Richa Chadha), feeling helpless under the weight of her problems, numbs her pain with alcohol and suicide attempts. But her neighbours, especially Chirag (Ishwak Singh) who lives one floor down, won’t let her wallow in peace. The story feels straightforward and sometimes a little corny, which is perhaps why it also feels the slowest out of the five short films. Thankfully, it is never boring.

Continuing the apartment theme is ‘Rat-A-Tat’. Cranky Archana (Lillete Dubey) reluctantly lets clumsy Priyanka (Rinku Rajguru) into her home until the rat in the young girl’s apartment escapes. As Priyanka breaks Archana’s long years of solitude, Archana ensures Priyanka doesn’t end up like her. Tannishtha Chatterjee’s film has an incredible amount of warmth, even if it lacks excitement. Lillete Dubey is always excellent, but the unexpected highlight here is Rinku Rajguru, who is so refreshingly real and unpretentious on screen.

A new type of poverty porn has emerged which, instead of evoking pity at the poor, depicts their life with the sentimentality of an outsider looking in. ‘Vishaanu’, while being the most interesting story of the lot, falls into this trap of infantilizing the poor to provoke guilt in the privileged. Manish (Abhishek Banerjee) and his family are happily stranded at their boss’ luxury sample flat due to the lockdown. At the heart of ‘Vishaanu’ there is an uncomfortable conversation that needs to be brought to light, but it could have been done without patronizing the characters, who are just defined by their poverty.

‘Chand Mubarak’ does depict the class differences in a much more tactful, but also more optimistic way. Affluent, paranoid Uma (Ratna Pathak Shah) and autorickshaw driver Rafiq (Shardul Bhardwaj) become unlikely companions as their paths cross during lockdown. Both separated from their families, they slowly grow a familial bond with each other. Nitya Mehra as a filmmaker continues to feel very personal to me. Being taken back to the loneliness of Ramazan and Eid-ul-Fitr, this one hit the hardest.

Living through the time these films are depicting, it is hard to objectively judge stories which touch upon wounds that still haven’t healed. 2020 might be the worst year of our collective lives, but the ‘Unpaused’ team lovingly ends the films on a note of hope. These stories aren’t about where we are going, they are about how we are getting there. Old, young, rich, poor, the answer is simple: we are getting there together, somehow, somewhere.

 

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