Unpaused, streaming on Prime Video,is an assorted ‘bouquet’ set in covid times, present and future. The flawless casting in each segment featuring characters whose subtle and astute performances convey their emotions, motivations, and intentions perfectly and this, undoubtedly, is its biggest plus point. However, the thorny choice of stories and their narrative design, barring two, ensure that the compendium, dealing with a plethora of themes such as love, panic, trust, guilt, deceit, loneliness and finding solace, ends up as rather disappointing fare on the whole.
The compilation begins with Raj & DK’s Glitch, where we find the anxious Ahan (Gulshan Devaiah) waiting in a bar for his 193rd date, Ayesha (Saiyami Kher), who makes her appearance wearing red designer apparel, a colour which he disapproves of on their first date owing to his preconceived notions. But the moment he realizes that she is a medical professional, christened as a ‘warrior’, he gets rattled and terminates the meeting immediately. We realized that it was a virtual date and the story is set-up in a futuristic milieu where the strain of Covid-19 has metamorphosed to Covid-30. Ayan is a certified ‘hypo’ – a hypochondriac who is scared to death with the thought of getting infected with the virus. He later regrets his erratic behavior and tries to apologetically reconnect with Ayesha and how the two individuals finally unite forms the spine of the story. The cinematography and the set design are beautifully constructed to provide us with an aura of cutting-edge visionary atmosphere but one cannot relate much with the plot points and narrative flow because the structuring appears to be hackneyed with the dialogues attempting to be cheerful and lively but ending up being rather loose. Even though the director duo examines the nature of amity, and the ways in which we define and maintain the relationships that are most important to us, the film ends up telling a rather loose tale that rarely materialises. A not so good start, this.
The second film, Nikkhil Advani’s The Apartment, introduces us to a tormented soul, Devika (Richa Chadha), who is trying to end her life when her doorbell rings. The next time she tries to accomplish her truncated act, the doorbell is again pressed and she aborts her plan once more. The story is simple. A print media businesswoman, Devika, discovers her so-called doting husband, Sahil (Sumeet Vyas) a journalist, has been exploiting his younger staff and must take an important decision whose repercussions will affect her life, both personally and professionally. The claustrophobic envoironment of Devika’s opulent flat, the clanging sounds of utensils from the television, the embarrassing video conferencing – all such hostile ambiences do create a sense of empathy for the character, if only for a bit. And the way the events are structured, the segment is unable to sustain. In fact, the entire narrative flow is akin to a ship that is lost at sea and attempts to move from one emotional port to the other without really finding anchor. Perhaps a straightforward approach by Advani could have worked better. The discussion, arguments and conversations Devika has with Sahil and her savior, Chirag (Ishwak Singh), are but some of the merits that the film has to offer.
The acclaimed actress Tannishtha Chatterjee directs the third instalment, Rat-a-Tat, where we encounter the gradual bonding between a cribbing old woman Archana (Lillete Dubey) from UP and a young, helpful Hindi speaking Marathi girl, Priyanka (Rinku Rajguru). The latter is struggling assistant production designer, who lives as a tenant one floor above Archana’s flat in the bungalow. The intrusion of a rat in Priyanka’s room brings the two characters together as the gracefully ageing Archana allows the young girl to stay at her place out of sympathy. As days pass by, the closeness between them strengthens, the six-foot social distancing is forgotten as also their masks. The metaphoric use of Archana’s spectacles that break at the beginning of the film and are later fixed by Priyanka is an apt representation of their growing fondness. On a close observation the bungalow, where the drama unfolds, also serves as a cocoon where hope and longing flourishes. But yet again, it is only the persuasive performances of the actors, which prove to be the film’s saving grace.
The fourth segment, Vishanoo, by National Award winning director, Avinash Arun, takes us into the world of a migrant laborer, Manish (Abhishek Banerjee), trapped in the maximum city due to the lockdown. He strikes a deal with an ambulance driver who will take him, his wife, Seema (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan), and little son Monu (Pallas Prajapati) to his village in Bhagwada, Rajasthan if he agrees to pay the driver a hefty sum. Shubham, who has previously co-written the highly acclaimed Eeb Allay Ooo! (2019), yet again creates a relevant social drama, which makes use of minimal dialogue but when it does so, it is surprisingly witty and this helps greatly in breaking the mood of desolation. Arun’s directing acumen helps us to empathize with the distress of the couple, holed up in a luxurious sample flat of a posh building under construction. It almost becomes a allegory of the fate of thousand migrant workers who were trapped in a limbo due to the sudden announcement of the lockdown. All the richness surrounding their temporary abode matters less in their momentary existence because they are running out of money while the desolate streets of the city, with very few people, almost brings forth a feel of dystopia.Though Geetika has got into the skin of the character, like her co-actor Abhishek, one can’t help similar comparisons traces with her character in Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad (2020). She is a fine actress and one hopes that she doesn’t get typecast for she has much more to offer.
The final story, Nitya Mehra’s Chand Mubarak, take us on a ride, both literally and metaphorically, in an autorickshaw that not only dissolves the class barrier between an independent and rich old lady, Uma (Ratna Pathak Shah), and a young Muslim auto driver, Riyaz (Shardul Bhardwaj), but also results in an unusual friendship. The film begins with Uma, as she ventures out of her house to purchase medicine but a police officer compels her to move around in an autorickshaw and that’s how the two characters meet. Though Uma initially mistrusts Riyaz, she gradually warms up to him. The common thread that binds both the characters is their loneliness. Uma’s twin brother has just died the previous month while Riyaz couldn’t visit his wife and children in Bijnor for Eid ul-Fitr due to the lockdown. One of the most memorable moments in the film is where Riyaz invites Uma to break his fast with him and both characters sit on the pavement and nibble at dates as they wait for the moon to appear in the sky. The autorickshaw symbolically serves as a liberal space where two individuals with different religious beliefs can accommodate themselves, argue over societal expectations, have disagreements yet can develop a bonding amongst themselves. It’s rare and refreshing to see an Indian film, where individuals belonging to two different backgrounds such as Uma and Riyaz, display similar tastes over a song based on a poem by Amir Khusro. Technically too, the film is quite accomplished. The on-screen camaraderie shared by both the characters is excellent, thereby raising the segment by a notch or two Though the final scene becomes somewhat melodramatic, it can be overlooked looking at the overall dramatic structure of the film.
Ultimately, with so many options now available on the OTT platforms, Unpaused fails to make a lasting impression in its entirety in spite of two highly watchable segments that are well worth a watch.
Hindi, Drama, Color