Unpaused: Naya Safar, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, is a collection of five short films connected by the thread of how the pandemic has brought about alterations in the lives of individuals. We meet characters from various walks of life battling with issues, problems, and situations displaying their tenacity. The five short films in this latest compendium are a mixed bag of surprises and disappointments.
Unpaused: Naya Safar begins with the short, "The Couple,". In this short, we are told the story of a happy couple, Dippy (Priyanshu Painyuli) and Akriti (Shreya Dhanwanthary), who resides in one of the posh areas of Mumbai. They are content with their work-from-home mode and urban lifestyle. After the successful launch of a biodegradable diaper, Akriti is laid off from her job instead of getting a promotion. The placidity in the lives of the couples is disrupted, and tension seeps into their relationship.
The concept is very dated and, despite convincing performances from Priyanshu and Shreya, could not pass muster. There is nothing "Naya" in this latest endeavour from Nupur Asthana to begin the "Safar" of this anthology.
After the letdown, comes War Room, which gives us a feeling of elation by restoring our faith in the power of cinematic storytelling.
Sangeeta Waghmare (Geetanjali Kulkarni) is a widow who works as a secondary section math teacher. She lives alone and is currently employed as an executive in a COVID war room. Her job is to assist people infected with the deadly virus and help them find a bed available at the various government hospitals, through phone calls. One such call scratches a wound from her past that has not yet healed. She is now in the horns of a dilemma where her moral stand and professional commitment are in question.
Shubham, the co-writer of Ebb Ally, oo! has come up with a riveting script portraying a day in the life of a woman faced with a tumultuous psychological crisis. The cinematographer, Tassaduq Hussain, darkly lights the interiors to generate the bleak and perplexing feelings of the protagonist. Dipika Kalra’s timing and pacing in the edit set the rhythm for an intense and taut human drama. Geetanjali Kulkarni delivered a memorable performance with subtle gestures that revealed her perplexed state of mind. Ayappa KM, the director, creatively utilises the contributions from various departments to deliver a twenty-five-minute long film that is worth watching time and again.
Next in Unpaused: Naya Safar we meet three desolate individuals, Chandan (Saqib Saleem), Ajeet (Sam Menon) and Dimple (Ashish Verma). Directed by Ruchir Arun, this short is called Teen Tigada.
The pandemic is not yet over, and the trio is assigned a job that will help them earn some quick bucks. But the situation turns unfriendly when a lockdown is announced in the wake of a second wave. Marooned in an isolated factory on the outskirts of the city without any amenities, they struggle to leave the unwelcoming location as soon as possible. The filmmaker has displayed his command of the craft and the technical finesse. The comic timing and the performance of the principal cast are up to the mark. But it is the screenplay that lacks a certain dose of complexity, and in the absence of such short-sightedness, the overall dramatic impetus of the film suffers.
The fourth segment, Gond Ke Laddu, has a very emotional and touching premise. An aged mother, Sushila (Neena Kulkarni), sends Gond Laddus to her daughter living in another city through a courier service. But the delivery boy, Rohan (Lakshvir Sahota), meets with an accident and the parcel is damaged. His job is now at stake, and so his wife Radha (Darshana Rajendran) will leave no stone unturned to make a replica of the Laddus for delivery. The screenplay, despite having such potential, suffers from a meandering and lacklustre execution.
The final segment, Vaikunth, directed by Nagraj Manjule, is the tale of a frontline essential services worker at a cremation ground, Vikas (Nagraj Manjule), in a small town in Maharashtra. Vikas stays in a small rented house with his child, Avinash (Arjun Karche). His father had been infected by the virus and was taken by the government authorities to be admitted to the hospital. Vikas and Avinash had to vacate their house because the landlord was scared of having a tenant who works at a cremation ground. The drama unfolds as the father and son take shelter near the cremation ground and wait for news regarding the oldest member of their family. Manjule brings a dash of gritty realism to the narrative by probing into the lives and activities of the various characters in the film. The dead bodies burning on the grounds have been captured reasonably well through the meticulous framing by the cinematographer, Harshwardhan Waghdhare. The creepy sound of the burning and the shrieks of people crying out create an eerie aural space. However, the slow-motion shot at the end of the film appears to be exaggerated and does not go well with the flow. But that can be considered a minor blemish in an otherwise well-structured and measured drama to conclude the anthology.