Anthologies as a genre have been a prominent part of Indian cinema in the last two decades, and there are two forms of it adapted in various languages. In one form, the different stories have an interconnection mostly revealed towards the end, and in the other they remain unrelated as a compilation of distinctive short films made on a common subject.
Unpaused is the second form of anthology presenting five different stories about the recent lockdown caused by COVID-19. The limited series was made during this tough period by five talented directors with just a few characters and their restricted movements. The title represents the situation as the life of every single human on this planet got paused for a few months recently, and there were only a few instances when we all got Unpaused.
It begins with a futuristic, comical as well as sarcastic take on the situation titled Glitch, portraying how romance, dating and living/working from home could be there in the coming years. Featuring Gulshan Devaiah and Saiyami Kher, it has been directed by Raj & DK in their unique style that unfortunately remains the weakest part of the presentation and thus should not have been offered as the first story, to be honest. It has performances and a praiseworthy art direction, but being the very first story, doesn’t give enough time to the viewer to get into the right mood. Interestingly, it strongly reminded me of another must-watch anthology titled Island City (2016), directed by Ruchika Oberoi.
As the second story, Apartment, directed by Nikkhil Advani, has Richa Chadda, Sumeet Vyas and Ishwak Singh playing the key roles. This ideally should have been the first section of the series as it strongly depicts how an individual gets into suicidal tendencies while living a lonely life locked up in a room, continuously thinking about his or her personal tragedies and dilemmas. The lighter touch of an annoying neighbour enhances the impact ending with a thought-provoking conversation, scoring much above Glitch.
The series becomes even better with its third story Rat-A-Tat, directed by Tannishtha Chatterjee that again deals with a lady living alone, not willing to welcome a neighbour as her unwanted guest in the lockdown. However, here the tone remains simple, positive, entertaining and musical too. Though predictable, this particular story remains realistic and lovable because of a sparkling chemistry between Lillete Dubey, Rinku Rajguru and their well-written dialogues. Rinku once again is the scene-stealer here post her mega hit Sairat (Marathi).
The fourth part, Vishaanu, directed by Avinash Arun Dhaware, remains the best of them all, as it’s a story about the most affected section of our society during the lockdown. It’s about the poor migrants who neither had money to pay for the expensive travel home nor a place to live in without any work or regular source of earning. The true emotions are brilliantly depicted by both Abhishek Banerjee and Geetika Vidya Ohlyan representing thousands of unknown stories related to the scary lockdown, and the intelligent reference of TikTok kind of videos takes the cake. Incidentally, here not only the theme but also the title Vishaanu strongly reminds you of the similar premise of the Oscar-winning Parasite (Korean/2019).
From its peak, the series ends on a soft note with Nitya Mehra-directed Chaand Mubarak focusing on the interactions between a senior citizen enacted by Ratna Pathak Shah and an auto driver played by Shardul Bhardhwaj. The sudden and unexpected relationship between strangers not only depicts the religious and class divide but also represents empathy or compassion felt for the other in such uncertain circumstances. Having said that, the execution still lacks in terms of an instant emotional connect with the viewer.
Overall, with most of the stories being engaging, revolving around the initial days of the pandemic, the best thing about Unpaused is that it isn’t any hurriedly-made series to cash in on the present scenario. The anthology might not be an exceptional take on the subject, but it has been made with a vision and noble intentions, with many calm and silent moments that have sadly become rare in our present new-age Hindi cinema. Moreover, it is important, as only such realistic cinematic documentations will convey the idea of the taalies and thaalies to the future generations without any intentional adulterations.
Directors: Raj and DK, Nikkhil Advani, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Avinash Arun, and Nitya Mehra
Cast: Gulshan Devaiah, Sayyami Kher, Sumeet Vyas, Richa Chadha, Lillete Dubey, Rinku Rajguru, Abhishek Banerjee, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Ratna Pathak Shah, Shardul Bharadwaj
Platform: Amazon Prime Video