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Unpaused review: A sparkling collection of stories about humanity and camaraderie in an age of paranoia

Release Date: 18 Dec 2020

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Shriram Iyengar

The anthology highlights the fears, insecurities and friendships that have blossomed during the lockdown.

Amazon Prime Video's new anthology Unpaused features a couple that is highly divided in their approach to the coronavirus pandemic, an elderly woman who forms an unlikely friendship, a young woman struggling with guilt and suicidal thoughts, and the all-encompassing lockdown that suffocates them all. However, the film is not overly dark. It is alternatively funny, smart, moving and realistic in its depiction of the human condition. The stories, limited by the setting of the present pandemic era, encapsulate a diverse range of experiences that capture life across different classes, genders and world views. 

The anthology begins with Raj & DK's quirky Glitch, which is set in a possible future. Ahan (Gulshan Devaiah) and Ayesha (Saiyami Kher) are brought together by a virtual dating app, which has become a necessity 30 years into the lockdown. With Ahan's hypochondria consuming him, Ayesha struggles to find mutual ground. The film tackles social ills and personal insecurities and yet it does not allow its characters to wallow in self-pity. This is a common element in all five projects. Devaiah is charming as the paranoid neurotic who faces his worst fears to find love, while Kher is quite good as the mute 'warrior' who's battling her own loneliness. 

Loneliness is also a key theme in Nikkhil Advani's The Apartment. Devika (Richa Chadha) is a rising editor who is struggling to come to terms with sexual harassment charges against her husband Sahil (Sumeet Vyas). With the lockdown closing in, Devika is teetering on the edge of suicide. Sanyuktha Chawla Shaikh's script captures the mental and physical suffocation caused by the lockdown while Advani ensures that the dark, cloistered visuals represent the characters' turmoil. Chadha and Ishwak Singh do great justice to their roles. 

Avinash Arun's Vishanu is an excellent take on resilience. Abhishek Bannerjee plays a labourer who finds himself trapped in an abandoned city with his family and no means of survival. His only luxury is the plush apartment that he has illegally occupied. It takes an impressive amount of creativity to capture all these stories with limited outdoor scheduling. Even as he seeks to find a way to finance his migration back home, he finds some joy in making TikTok videos with his wife. The writing by Shubham has sardonic humour that combines empathy with realism to good effect. There is a bit of unevenness in the story, however, and it leaves you with a sense of dissatisfaction.

A personal favourite in the anthology is Tannishtha Chatterjee's Rat-a-tat which is held together by stellar performances by Rinku Rajguru and Lillete Dubey. Dubey plays a lonely senior citizen who finds the most unlikely pandemic companion in the impish Priyanka (Rajguru). As the two grow friendly, they discover common ground in their fierce individuality. Directed with the empathy and vision that is unique to female directors, the film is held together by fantastic performances. Rajguru has grown as an actor, and her comfort and chemistry with the veteran steal your heart. The element of a film industry professional being out of work and the lampooning of noisy 'thali banging' celebrations are amusing. Rajguru's performance is highlighted by her natural expressions, which are complemented by Dubey's more sophisticated and polished approach. 

The final film boasts a fantastic story by Nitha Mehra. A cantankerous senior citizen Uma (Ratna Pathak Shah) enters an unlikely, but necessary, friendship with an auto driver Rafi (Shardul Bharadwaj). Without venturing into the sentimental, the story builds a lovely menagerie of relationships through realistic and contextual situations. While Uma remains fiercely independent, Rafiq's espouses the idea of the traditional family. Both are struggling with loneliness and form an unlikely bond; filled with its fair share of arguments and confrontations, but also heartwarming wholesomeness, it is a lovely denouement to the anthology. 

In many ways, Unpaused lives up to its title. Each film in the anthology focusses on the underlying theme that, the pause imposed by the pandemic notwithstanding, life goes on. This is brought to the screen terrifically through sparkling and witty writing, capable direction and brilliant acting. Undoubtedly one of the better productions to have emerged amid the recent OTT boom, Unpaused is a must-watch. 

Unpaused is being streamed on Amazon Prime Video. 

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