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Unpaused Review: This Pandemic Anthology Is Like A Warm Hug For All Our Touch-Deprived Souls

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When I watched the Unpaused trailer for Amazon Prime Video, my excitement was about that brilliant cast the makers had managed to bring on board. All pairings unique, intriguing and every actor talented. Plus, I’m kind of enjoying this anthology format! After I spoke to Tannishtha Chatterjee and Lillete Dubey about their short, Rat-A-Tat (watch this space for the interview!), I was even more eager because they described it to be a simple, sweet, story about people like us, and the absolutely non-dramatic changes that the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown brought in our lives. The little things, you know? And I knew I would relate to them. But watching Unpaused in its entirety? Oh it was like each of the five short films came, one by one, to give my social distanced, touch-deprived soul a warm hug.

 

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Unpaused brings together five acclaimed directors and a talented bunch of actors. Raj & DK (The Family Man), Nikkhil Advani (D-Day), Tannishtha. Chatterjee (Roam Rome Mein), Avinash Arun (Paatal Lok) and Nitya Mehra (Made In Heaven). The cast includes Gulshan Devaiah, Saiyami Kher in Glitch; Richa Chadha, Sumeet Vyas, and Ishwak Singh in The Apartment; Rinku Rajguru and Lillete Dubey in Rat-A-Tat; Abhishek Banerjee and Geetika Vidya Ohlyan in Vishaanu; and Ratna Pathak Shah and Shardul Bharadwaj in Chand Mubarak.

Also Read: Unpaused Trailer: Here’s Why This Pandemic Anthology From Amazon Ought To Be On Your Watch List!

The emotional journey of Unpaused is pretty much like a heartbeat. It start of light and funny and hopeful, then gets intense, then flattens in this peaceful manner, and then once again rises like a crescendo. While it’s tempting to tell you in detail just everything each short made me feel, here’s something I loved about each of the stories!

Glitch: Raj & DK | Gulshan Devaiah and Saiyami Kher

Glitch caught me by so much surprise when it began! Of course, I won’t ruin the surprise for you, but the world of Glitch, so creatively etched out by Raj & DK and writer Reshu Nath, is both promising and scary. But Gulshan Devaiah, his interactions with his home AI (OMG, I want one! She’s so sassy!) and his internal monologues breathe so much life and humour into it, that you forget that apocalyptic setup the story is in! I could detect traces of the director duo’s earlier works in it.

I’ve been a fan of Devaiah since Hunterrr now, and thought Saiyami Kher was so good in Choked. And they didn’t let me down at all! I laughed and even went “Awwww” at one point! Their story was one for unpausing love, which as we say, came to a halt during the lockdown because people couldn’t meet.

It’s funny how we believe that technology has brought us closer, making long-distance relationships easier than they ever were. I remember thinking we’re lucky the pandemic happened now, instead of, say 10-15 years ago, because look how spectacularly we’ve managed to make the virtual work for us. But when something like this happens, when technology is the only option to connect, will it be enough? Glitch has an answer.

The Apartment: Nikkhil Advani | Richa Chadha, Sumeet Vyas and Ishwak Singh

I kind of knew what direction this one would take from the promos. And what Richa Chadha’s character was about to do, is something of a touchy issue. We keep saying that the pandemic has claimed so many young, promising lives. But in all our rush to get justice for them, we keep forgetting that their sadness, their depression, their problems were germinating in them long before the pandemic pushed us into solitary confinement. What being alone did is simply bring it all to a boiling point where they were driven to take a drastic step. The question then is for us. Did we ring the doorbell and ask them if they needed help?

Predictable but definitely enriched by Richa Chadha’s despair-laden performance and Ishwak Singh’s endearing act, The Apartment still works because it is so close to the pain and hurt we’ve all experienced in our real lives this year.

 

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Rat – A – Tat: Tannishtha | Lillete Dubey and Rinku Rajguru

When I spoke to Tannishtha about her film, I remember she told me, that the pandemic wasn’t always big, dramatic moments for everyone. For most of us, our lives just became stagnant. And there was a lack of the drama. And that’s why her story is as simple, and easy-flowing as the sun rising every morning.

Rat-A-Tat is a story about an unlikely friendship forged between two women who are generations apart, have different interests, temperaments, but are bound by a similar hidden emotion. For one, it is a longing ache, and for the other, it’s regret, I suppose. The lockdown and certain mousy circumstances bring them together, and watching that friendship develop was one of my favourite things in Unpaused! Female friendships like these are so beautiful!

Tannishtha had promised that her protagonist wasn’t going to be this stereotypical grumpy old lady. She was going to be stylish and forward thinking, capable of witty banter, someone who was very much living her life the way she wanted to, with not too many regrets. And Lillete Dubey was such perfect casting! I enjoyed her chemistry with Sairat girl Rinku Rajguru, because it felt so easy and natural. No big chick-flick bonding moment happened; it was organic and eventual. Whether they were talking about boys, work, or intense family dramas, it was all so… normal!

I guess having a majorly female team behind the camera (story and screenplay: Devika Bhagat; dialogues: Ishita Moitra; editing: Antara Lahiri) helped keep things real and relatable.

Vishaanu: Avinash Arun | Abhishek Banerjee and Geetika Vidya Ohlyan

I mean, it’s the Paatal Lok team of Avinash Arun and Abhishek Banerjee, and you add to that the brilliant lead of Soni, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan. And then you tell one of the biggest stories of the pandemic lockdown in India. I expected nothing less. Vishaanu balances the harsh reality of the migrant workers and their troubles that led to one of the biggest exodus we’ve seen in a while, with that of their grit and determination to survive.

Sitting in our air-conditioned homes, eating the banana bread we baked and drinking the alcohol we saved, we all wondered how these people were going to walk hundreds of kilometres to their villages. How would they survive, before the Sonu Soods jumped in to help them? But you know what? Many of them tried their best, and this is a slice of that survival.

I loved the little, quite unexpected moments that Banerjee and Ohlyan’s characters shared, and how things that are very small-town India were so beautifully incorporated into the story by the writer, Shubham. The film reminded me so much of Parasite, mainly because ‘Vishaanu’ means virus, and it has similar connotations in the story as the Oscar winning film did. Also, how it juxtaposed the class struggle with the hopes and dreams of the grassroots of our country, and how their only protection against anything is their will to survive.

Chand Mubarak: Nitya Mehra | Ratna Pathak Shah and Shardul Bharadwaj

What do I say about this sweet, endearing, story!? I’m a Ratna Pathak Shah fan so I was kinda glad this was saved for the end, because all my feels were warmed up and ready to burst into tears. Especially because this was going to highlight the plight of senior citizens, their loneliness and dependency further aggravated by the pandemic. I could feel through her performance, the paranoia and distrust, a side-effect of the survival instinct that’s kicked in for the elderly, who want to survive the pandemic. Maybe for their children or grandchildren, or for their ageing spouses, or simply for themselves.

But the story hit me harder than I anticipated when it talked about the worst blow that the pandemic lockdown dealt us. Being unable to see a loved one for that one last time….

 

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Both Shah and Shardul Bharadwaj were brilliant and endearing—The autorickshaw driver cautiously daring to get this old woman to trust him; the old lady defiant at first, but then giving in because there’s really no other option for her. This friendship born of a mutual need morphs into something so beautiful, that you cannot help but smile. I also loved how Nitya Mehra and writers Vidur Nauriyal and Tarun Dudeja portray the the generation gap, the old as stubborn and the young as malleable and leading them to new possibilities with their broad outlook.

Verdict: Unpaused isn’t about the virus or the lockdown. It’s about us, the survivors.

At first, you think the paranoia, loneliness, despair, or helplessness that the characters feel are induced by the pandemic that arrived like a hurricane in their lives. But as their stories progress, you realise that’s not true. The pandemic only acts as a sort of catalyst, perhaps aggravating the emotions and traits that were always there. Just as the pandemic turned us into chefs baking banana bread because maybe, we always wished we had free time to cook, and now we did. Or how the migrants felt this detachment to the very cities they saw us their saviours, because when things went bad, it promptly disowned and displaced them. And how it made us realise that we were all living lonely lives, and virtual connections could only help us so far. And sometimes, they’re all we have.

I don’t think there’s anything about Unpaused that I didn’t like. The characters and their settings, both feel lived in and relatable. The conversations feel organic. The stories touch on so many different emotions, which I believe is exactly why anthologies work for such subjects. Heck, I even love the music! From the quirky lyrics in Glitch to the melodious ‘Badarva’ and even the title track, ‘Ummeed Hai’. Unpaused is a delightful two-hour long feel-good watch, with no story overstaying its welcome and, in fact, making you want to know more about what happens after the end!

 

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The biggest surprise for me, though, was that the trailer had me expecting some tears. But when I was done watching, (the last one, Chaand Mubarak…. Boy! That hit right in the feels!) the tears, they still didn’t come. And that’s not a bad thing because I believe that wasn’t Unpaused’s intention. And I’m throwing this open for any of the filmmakers or actors to agree with me or correct me.

I think each of the stories in Unpaused are like a participation certificate that you get when you don’t win a competition. I know winning matters, but what do you do in the face of something that you can’t completely win? I don’t mean others, maybe they can. Maybe they did win. But you’ve been dealt a rough hand. So what do you do? You accept that participation certificate and you go your merry way. Because that’s life. And it’s time to start living it, viruses et al.

We’ve all been through so much this year. Our lives came to utter standstill, but the problems didn’t. Now that everything’s opening up, and we’re Unpausing ourselves, it might get better/worse? Like it did when we paused in March. A film like Unpaused is a nice scrapbook of our little wins, and makes for the biggest participation certificate of all. We survived this. We made it through. And I love that! I’m sure, you will too!

Unpaused is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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