Directors: Raj & DK, Nikkhil Advani, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Avinash Arun, Nitya Mehra
Cast: Gulshan Devaiah, Saiyami Kher, Richa Chadha, Ishwak Singh, Sumeet Vyas, Lillete Dubey, Rinku Rajguru, Abhishek Banerjee, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Ratna Pathak Shah
Streaming On: Amazon Prime Video
Film anthologies on streaming platforms seem to be the flavor of the month. After Paava Kadhaigal in Tamil on Netflix, Putham Pudhu Kaalai, also Tamil on Amazon, comes Unpaused on Amazon – five shorts in Hindi, each one, shot post Covid-19 and dealing with the havoc the virus wrecked on us. The format suits the crisis. The pandemic has upended life so completely that it would be impossible for one narrative to capture the enormity of the tragedy and the change. So five directors – Raj and DK, Nikkhil Advani, Nitya Mehra, Tannishta Chatterjee and Avinash Arun Dhaware – attempt a first response to a moment in history.
The result is an uneven collection of shorts. Anthologies are usually a mixed bag but here there is only one stand-out – Vishaanu by Avinash. Avinash, a National-Award winning director whose most recent credit is the terrific Paatal Lok, chooses to address one of the most catastrophic outcomes of the lockdown – the plight of migrants who were, with one announcement, rendered jobless and homeless. But Avinash and the writer Shubham, don’t take us on the road as you might expect. Instead, they tell us the story of a couple and their child who become squatters in a sample flat in an unoccupied building. They aren’t thieves. They are hard-working people without a choice. Short films are all about the economy of expression. Avinash and Shubham say so much in such little time. The film isn’t just about the virus. It’s about the equally horrific economic inequity in our country. It will make you uncomfortably aware of your own privilege. Abhishek Banerjee and Geetika Vidya Ohlyan are superb as the couple. Life might be harrowing but these two don’t give in to despair. Instead they find a moment of joy. The scene is so unexpected and delightful that it will make you smile. Vishaanu does what the best shorts do – it lands a swift, blunt blow to the gut.
The other directors choose more comforting narratives. In Glitch, Raj and DK, present the near future, where humanity is battling Covid-30 and 6 million people have died. Humanity is now divided into certified groups like Hypos – people who are fearful and refuse to leave their homes without a PPE suit and others who are Warriors, at the frontlines, trying to find a cure. It’s a clever idea – the story has been written by Reshu Nath – that offers room for comedy in the midst of grimness. Gulshan Devaiah plays Ahan the hypo who lives alone. His most enduring relationship is with his virtual assistant Mala. DOP Pankaj Kumar uses the poppy colors of his plush apartment to underscore his loneliness. Over the years, Ahan has mastered many arts online and the wall is lined with certificates, including one for playing the Ukelele. I found this especially funny because during the lockdown, my son also bought a ukulele and played it twice.
Raj and DK are masters of eccentricity. Their imagining of this scared new world and Gulshan’s portrayal of the petulant and paranoid Ahan is inherently comic. But the writing isn’t sharp enough. Which is also the problem with Rat-a-tat, directed by Tannishtha in which Lillete Dubey and Rinku Rajguru play strangers who come befriend each other during the lockdown. A rat helps this to happen but the title is the cleverest thing in this film. Nikkhil and Nitya do better with their stories. In these films also, strangers make connections. Nikkhil’s film, called The Apartment, takes places entirely within one. Richa Chadha plays a woman going through a personal and professional crisis. She’s reliably good. So is Ishwak Singh who plays a neighbor who helps. In Chand Mubarak, the strangers are played by Ratna Pathak Shah and Shardul Bharadwaj. Shardul’s smile in the last frame of the film has such inherent sweetness and decency that for a brief moment, you might believe that we shall overcome.
Unpaused is a snapshot of a time when the world paused. But most of the films in the anthology don’t do enough with this strange, bewildering reality. They are painless but also too timid in terms of imagination. Except Vishaanu. Be sure to find that one.
You can watch in on Amazon Prime Video.