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Geetanjali Kulkarni and Ayappa KM talk about War Room from Unpaused: Naya Safar- Cinema express

Geetanjali Kulkarni and Ayappa KM talk about War Room from Unpaused: Naya Safar

How virtue and forgiveness emerge in a covid war room in the moving short

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Published: 24th January 2022
Geetanjali Kulkarni and Ayappa KM

A highlight of Unpaused: Naya Safar is War Room, a tense, uncanny moral drama set in a covid war room. Sangeeta Waghmare (Geetanjali Kulkarni) begins her work day by taking emergency calls and allotting beds to patients. One such request comes in for a man Sangeeta holds responsible for her son’s suicide. The man, a school principal, was in jail; he isn’t eligible for interim covid bail but is somehow out. Sangeeta has a choice to make: withhold critical, life-saving information or forge ahead with her job.

Director Ayappa KM says he based their story on media reportage from the last two years (the film is written by him, Anand Menon and Shubham). They also interviewed 5-6 employees of the 24 ward war rooms set up by the BMC across Mumbai. These are coordinators triaging in conjunction with doctors, talking to patients or relatives, enquiring after symptoms and allocating beds. They’re often untrained—Sangeeta, in the film, is a maths teacher. “We tried to understand the lives of these employees,” Ayappa says. “They, along with doctors and other frontline workers, were literally risking themselves to save others.”

Geetanjali was a natural choice for the lead. With minimal gestures, and very few words, she conveys a lifetime of pain. The actor’s presence is quietly hypnotic; you forget you’re watching a fictionalized character on a predetermined path. Sangeeta isn’t a sentimental figure: you feel her anguish and rage, the deep selfishness that can grip us in the midst of loss.

“It’s human nature that was revealed to us during the pandemic,” Geetanjali says. “These stories, these people, were all around us.”

War Room was shot at the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation’s (MSRTC) head office—the makers took a part of it and dressed it up with tables and chairs. The film captures the workings of a makeshift government office. The mood, though heavy, is relieved with humour. “We don’t catch dogs here,” Sangeeta tells a confused caller; later, a politician removes his mask to click a selfie.

“It’s not the best time to critique anything openly,” Ayappa says, decoding the implied satire in the film. “It has to be subtle and hidden.”

As the tension mounts, the film becomes a parable for kindness. A doctor, played by Sharvari Deshpande, looks out for Sangeeta (“I liked the moments of humanity between them,” Sharvari says). The ending, too, is in starkly uplifting contrast to Tassaduq Hussain’s gloomy cinematography. Geetanjali contextualizes it with something from her own experience during the pandemic.

“I was in my village for a long time during the lockdowns,” she shares. “I was working with children—we were doing music riyaz, drawing pictures and by-hearting stories every day. It really had an impact in their lives and as well as mine, because I learned so many things from them.”

Unpaused: Naya Safar is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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