The masks are off (almost) in the coronavirus pandemic-themed Amazon Prime Video anthology film Unpaused. The five entries in Unpaused propose that it is time to get back to the business of fairy tales. Enough moaning and groaning about the grim realities of death and illness, forced unemployment, disappearing incomes and lockdown-induced loneliness. Just reach out to the most easily available human being and a happy ending will follow. That’s what all but one of the five films suggest.
Unpaused is the second anthology film on Amazon Prime Video to be set and filmed during the pandemic. The Tamil-language Putham Pudhu Kaalai had a similar conceit – at a time of grave and unforeseen dangers, human touch is the only dependable element. Unpaused has a greater awareness of the horrors that have come in the wake of Covid-19 in India, but only just. The brief this time too is to be upbeat, comforting, apolitical and family-friendly (and therefore asexual). Only one of the directors sticks with the dark clouds rather than to reach for the rainbow.
The first entry is Raj & DK’s Glitch, set in a future in which Covid-19 has evolved to Covid-30. We are now way beyond WFH. Ahan (Gulshan Devaiah) does EFH (everything from home), including dating. He is a “hypo” – a hypochondriac who is terrified of catching the virus. His virtual date is a “warrior” – the medical professional Ayesha (Saiyami Kher). Reshu Nath’s screenplay pokes fun at Ahan’s anxiety while also suggesting that not all futuristic stories have to be dystopian.
In The Apartment, director Nikkhil Advani and writer Samyukta Chawla Shaikh pair two types of sickness. As a national lockdown is declared, Devika (Richa Chadha) contemplates suicide. She is gutted by the knowledge that her journalist husband Sahil (Sumeet Vyas) is a sexual predator. And then the doorbell rings.
Sharp performances by Richa Chadha and Ishwak Singh as the visitor elevate a film that is too crisp to accommodate its weighty themes of guilt and resilience.
Both Glitch and The Apartment are set in plush homes in Mumbai. Rat-a-Tat, directed by Tannistha Chatterjee and written by Devika Bhagat and Ishita Moitra, is located in one of the city’s surviving bungalows. The crotchety but chic senior citizen Archana (Lillete Dubey) strikes up a friendship with the upstairs tenant Priyanka (Rinku Rajguru). The minimum-two-feet-distance rule goes out of the window as Archana and Priyanka shrink the age gap.
Once again, a charming performance comes to the rescue, this time by Sairat star Rinku Rajguru, who balances sensitivity with impish comic timing.
The dwellings are once again luxurious but borrowed in Avinash Arun Dhaware’s Vishanoo, written by Shubham and vividly shot by Navagat Prakash. A couple and their son are squatting in a sample flat in an unfinished high-rise. The house is fully furnished, but the food is running out.
In the most well-rounded and affecting film in the omnibus, another senior citizen learns to overcome her fears and engage with Mumbai and its diverse citizenry. Nitya Mehra’s Chand Mubarak sees the mask-clutching Uma (Ratna Pathak Shah) reach out to the handkerchief-sporting auto driver Riyaz (Shardul Bhardwaj) for help and succour. Beautifully performed by the lead actors and evocatively lensed by Jay Oza, the screenplay by Mehra, Vidur Nauriyal and Tarun Dudeja earns its life-affirming ending.