Amazon Prime Video’s upcoming anthology Unpaused features five short films directed by Raj & DK, Nitya Mehra, Nikkhil Advani, Tannishtha Chatterjee and Avinash Arun. Unpaused features stories of ‘love, new beginnings, second chances, and a glimmer of hope’, all set and filmed during the pandemic. This marks the platform’s second anthology this year after the Tamil film Putham Pudhu Kaalai. The filmmakers spoke to Anupama Chopra about the challenges and advantages of shooting during the pandemic.
Anupama Chopra – What did you all enjoy about shooting during the pandemic? A lot of people have told me that it might have actually made filmmaking more efficient. Did that happen?
Krishna D.K. – I mean for us it felt like it was a throwback to ten years ago when we were making these small independent films with a tiny crew and no frills at al. I think we have forgotten how to make a movie in a very simple set up like that. I wouldn’t say it’s enjoyable because there’s constant stress. In our case, even 4 days before we were supposed to shoot there was a scare and we didn’t know if we were actually going to go ahead. Luckily everything turned out to be okay.
But, there was the constant uncertainty of ‘what if, during the shoot, something happens?’. Raj and I were actually exposed to somebody who tested positive a day before the shoot so we didn’t even know if we were supposed to go ahead. So, what we did was we had a separate tent set up for us outside the set and we were watching on the monitor and explaining things without actually interacting with people on set for a day. Luckily the results came that evening that we were all negative. That way, it’s actually a bit stressful, but the good takeaway from it is, like I said, there’s literally only 10 people making a film and you know everybody is doing everything. This was back to the basics of independent filmmaking.
Anupama Chopra – And what did you miss most about pre-pandemic shooting? What’s the one thing you really wished you could’ve done?
Krishna D.K. – Not wear a mask.
Nitya Mehra – Yeah, I have to second that. I remember there was a scene where Ratna (Pathak Shah) was in a rickshaw and we were in another vehicle with the monitor and I was trying to explain something to her, but it was raining and she couldn’t hear me. You don’t realize how much facial and lip movement is important in understanding what the other person is saying. So, I have to agree, that’s the most frustrating part.
Tannishtha Chatterjee – Yeah, the limited crew is something which is quite wonderful and you know streamlined, but having said all that, this experience was not about shooting with limited resources. There was also the fear and we had masks and we couldn’t come close to each other, all of which was limiting our creative processes. I really missed rehearsing with my actors, reading with them, being in the same room with them, explaining it to them, rather than just sitting with the monitor. Also wearing a mask is painful when you do it for fourteen hours. On the first day of our shoot we were wearing shields and masks, but from the second day onwards it was just the mask, we couldn’t bear that shield because it gave us a headache. My respect for all our healthcare workers really went up during this time. Just imagining that they do this with a PPE kit day in and day out under real stress of life and death, I don’t know how they do it.
Anupama Chopra – And Nikkhil, you’ve done the biggest of movies, what was this experience like for you?
Nikkhil Advani – Yeah but if you come to my set, you’ll see that most of the time, I’m the one who’s screaming ‘get everybody off the set, get everybody off the set’. I feel that, like Raj and D.K. were saying, once the ‘taam-jhaam’ is over and everything is set up, you just have to be there with the actors. Once Aparana Purohit (from Amazon) called me up and told me that this anthology is something that we want to try and do, the first person I called up was my DOP, Kaushal, who shot Mumbai Diaries with me.
I called told him we need a crew of 10 people, and asked him how many he would need and he said ‘I need just 1 person’. So, for me it was blissful. I mean yes the mask is a problem and the shield is a problem and, I don’t know whether I am allowed to say this, but the shield did come off, like Tannishtha was saying, after the first take. Slowly you do get used it, with things like knowing you are not supposed to have more than 6 people on set and 4 people off set, so then you’re saying ‘arre get that person out, so that I can go in’. All those things were part and parcel of it but we had a lot of fun and we learn with the process. I think that the main thing that has really worked for me was the limited crew. When other director says, ‘but you know I need so many people’, I said ‘but why? I did it with 10’.