Unpaused: Naya Safar Review: A sharper, grittier pandemic anthology
War Room, Teen Tigaadaa and Vaikunth are winners in this bouquet of pandemic stories
I’d reviewed the first edition of Unpaused positively and later reconsidered it. That was thirteen months ago, at the end of the first year of the pandemic, and the timing did the trick. Flustered, fatigued, I was perfectly susceptible to an anthology that had ‘new beginnings’ in its outline. The same hopefulness plagues Unpaused: Naya Safar, though the treatment has changed. The reigning mood is irritability; characters baulk at everything—an extended lockdown or the sight of bland maggi.
Directors: Nupur Asthana, Ayappa KM, Ruchir Arun, Shikha Makan, Nagraj Manjule
Cast: Shreya Dhanwanthary, Priyanshu Painyuli, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Saqib Saleem, Ashish Verma, Neena Kulkarni, Arjun Karche
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Nupur Asthana’s film kicks off simply. Akriti (Shreya Dhanwanthary) and Dippy (Priyanshu Painyuli) are having a fun lockdown till she gets on a Zoom call with her bosses. “I’m just surprised to see HR here,” she says—words as panic-inducing as the Prime Minister pulling one of his 10 o’clock addresses. Expectedly, Akriti is fired, leaving Dippy—who’s into marketing and thus late on the corporate butchering line—to pick her up. It’s a sweet, well-performed short, if a little late at highlighting the economic slowdown of the last two years. The couple’s fights, though unstintingly blunt and relatable, are old hat. And they skip an important part: the slow, necessary doubt-clearing that continues long after an apology is made.
Ayappa KM directs a tense morality play set in a covid war room. Sangeeta, a widow played by Geetanjali Kulkarni, is an operator there. Each day, she works the emergency helpline and allots beds—no time is given, but you feel the heat and desperation of the 2021 second wave. Cinematographer Tassaduq Hussain works a subdued magic, with muted colours and a consistently shallow depth-of-field. Eeriest of all is his unromanticized portrayal of the Mumbai rains. It drips and pours, tripping the electricity and escalating the sense of doom and gloom. One of the final images is Sangeeta walking home, across a corridor lit by lightning flashes. It’s a potent reminder that we’ve been watching a horror film all along.
Ruchir Arun’s film is a comedy about three crooks. It’s the wittiest of the five, far removed from everyday situations and problems to stand alone as a film. After they steal a truck, three nitwits must stay put in an empty factory. The premise is pulpy enough to make Thiagarajan Kumararaja smile, and so are the characters. Saqib Saleem looks like he’s seen enough Dhanush movies to play a swaggering hood. He’s mostly upstaged by the entertaining backchat by Ashish Verma. My favourite, though, is actor Sam Mohan, as the reluctant minder of the group. He’s funniest when a cop car pulls up on the gang scuffling. “We were playing,” he explains quickly.
Gond Ke Laddu
Shikha Makan’s film is about a mother’s love. No subtlety there, of course, as the title suggests. Sushila (Neena Kulkarni) wants to send laddus to her daughter, who has just delivered a child. She books a courier service, who mess up her parcel. The plot is similar to the Anurag Kashyap short in 2013’s Bombay Talkies. What’s more damning, though, is just how syrupy the whole affair gets. Neena, a veteran, is fetching as she overcomes an elderly woman’s suspicion of the internet. But the younger characters are sketchy and hard to buy. Life is like a box of laddus, but it shouldn’t give you diabetes.
Nagraj Manjule directs himself in a film about death. An ambulance pulls into a crematorium abuzz with the sounds of grief. Families wail, and we hear the crackle of firewood. Vikas, Nagraj’s character, burns pyres at the ground; he’s evicted from his home and forced to stay at the crematorium with his son. The actor-director paints calmly on a scene of rabid devastation. There are some stinging images, and a drone shot you’ll recognise from newspaper clippings. Bit by bit, all words die out, and the film executes a chokehold. Nagraj is always striking with his endings, and so often they’re delivered from a child’s perspective.