Unpaused Hindi Movie Review
'Unpaused' on Amazon Prime is an anthology about how COVID-19 affects the lives of different kinds of people in Indian society. The stories that constitute it are different, but COVID-19 is the theme of all the shorts. We are living in an unprecedented time, and Unpaused just asks us to pause and reflect on it and the experiences during it.
Imagine being in a metropolitan city like Mumbai with a sense of loneliness and an urge to connect with people. This is what Ratna Pathak Shah's and Shardul Bharadwaj's characters feel in Nitya Mehra's short 'Chaand Mubarak'. The former's Uma is an old, unmarried woman, whereas the latter's Rafique is an auto-rickshaw driver in Mumbai. Uma wonders how deserted the city has become during the epidemic period. This desertness forces her to form a friendship with the auto driver. And, that relationship is simple, sweet and even bordering on being sappy and sentimental. The short lacks a punch, but it brought a smile to my face.
Nikkhil Advani's 'Apartment' is about a middle-aged woman played by Richa Chadha who is depressed for a personal reason. Advani's short is the second-most impactful of the five films as it registers some powerful moments with little to no dialogue. The few lines in it make a mark and give us a sense of optimism, even as the short is about a gloomy subject. Richa Chadha is good in the small part as she lures us into her complex world, despite the small screen time that the short film format gives her. Ishwak Singh also has a small part here as the Chadha character's neighbor.
Tannishtha Chaterjee's 'Rat-A-Tat' is about the unlikely bond between two neighbors in an apartment. Lilette Dubey, who you might remember from 2003's 'Kal Ho Naa Ho', plays one of the neighbors, an elderly person. A younger neighbor, played by the Sairat fame Rinku Rajguru, approaches her for help after a rat invades the former's flat. Then, the two get to know each other over some snacks, a session of yoga, music, and some meals. This short has a laid-back feel to it, but it does not quite have the same impact as the others. Anyhow, Chaterjee's short gives you some joy and comfort, and that is all you can ask for in this desperate time.
The weakest of the five shorts also happens to be the first one, entitled 'Glitch'. The directors, Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK are not short on ideas here. Their short revolves around a scientist, who is also a social outcast for being in that profession, and a young man. Their worlds do not quite match, yet their circumstances make them meet. The directors set the short film in a foreseeable future where the coronavirus pandemic is named 'COVID-30', and VR and smartphones are the main tools of communication. Some of the directors' choices make this short a letdown of sorts, especially a voiceover that should not have been there. Nevertheless, the cast members Saiyami Kher and Gulshan Devaiah are charming here.
Avinash Arun's short 'Vishaanu' is inarguably the best short of the lot. It is about a migrant family from Rajasthan stuck in Mumbai as the COVID-19 crisis brings their lives to a standstill. The story, the circumstances these people face, and their experiences are identical to an India post-COVID-19. I must say that there is no such thing as a migrant in this country. At least, in my eyes, there is not, and should not be. So, it pains me when internet memes marginalize a particular population who hails from one place and works elsewhere in India.
The beauty of this short is its economy of dialogues. The visuals and the actions of the characters speak more than the written material itself. Weirdly, the short makes us think about the government policy of enforcing the lockdown so quickly. Vishaanu may be the best and boldest Indian short story ever, and it features fine performances from the Paatal Lok fame Abhishek Banerjee, plus Geetika Vidya Ohlyan. Someone like Bong Joon-ho could even make a feature-length film about this kind of subject.
All in all, the time and space bending qualities of all the shorts in Unpaused is quite good. Some shorts need a little more fine-tuning, whereas others are quite exemplary.