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[Movie Review] Unpaused (2020)

Night Owl Score - 4.5/5 Hoots

Content warning - mention of suicide

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To say that 2020 was truly a rollercoaster ride would be an understatement. For some, it brought utter devastation in the form of lost loved ones, jobs, and entire livelihoods. And, for a privileged few, it became a golden opportunity to learn new skills, find much-needed solitude and introspection. Now, we are all in the last leg of this rollercoaster ride, restless beyond imagination, wanting to get out of the ‘new normal’, that we had so gracefully yet forcefully embraced. The pandemic isn't over yet, but even though our patience might have run out, creative content is definitely something that boomed in this period in seemingly new ways. Unpaused is a product of these times; it is an energetic breeze of fresh air that we longed for. It not only brought a positive sense of closure to what we are going through at the moment, brought down on our knees by a virus we cannot even see, through five simple, wholesome stories set at the time of the lockdown. Narrating tales of new beginnings, it puts in front of us a much-needed reminder that it is the small things that truly matter; snippets of stories of common people, going through mundane problems, and trying their best to make the most of their circumstances. Unpaused is far from the cliche pop-Bollywood glamour and noise. It demands one to find meaning in silence, in boredom, in art, and in oneself, no matter how insignificant it may seem. It was the creative call of all five directors to get back to sets and begin this new artistic endeavor, with a limited crew but newfound passion to make the most of the lockdown experience.

First in the anthology, Raj & DK’s ‘Glitch’ is set 12 years in the future: COVID-30 has caused much to change, and more to perish. Ahan (Gulshan Devaiah) meets his date Ayesha (Saiyami Kher) in a virtual bar, where their conversation sets into motion a series of events that leave the audience smiling, taking in the ‘love in the times of Corona’ notion in an all-new light. Human connections and their ability to persevere even the strictest tests of COVID, with subtle nuances highlighting a world that has got used to the virus: towards the film’s end, Ayesha asks “How long does it take to fall in love at first sight?” and Ahan answers, “The same time it takes to catch the virus”. Brisk yet effective, the film sets the bar for the following works.

Nikhhil Advani’s ‘Apartment’ opens with Devika (Richa Chadha), tying a noose around her neck, about to kick the chair from underneath her. However, she is interrupted when the bell to her home rings. She stops herself and opens the door only to be confronted by a chipper neighbour, Chirag (Ishwak Singh). The plot unravels to show how Devika comes to terms with her husband (played by Sumit Vyas) having sexually harassed young women who worked at a magazine that he co-ran with her. In the brief span of under 30 minutes, Devika’s internal struggle is captured with benumbing rawness, and her interaction with Chirag which ultimately shows her a way out of her tumult. The actors’ performances are powerful and yet the plot lacks what the other films set out as the tone of the movie. It remains unclear how this particular film fits in the COVID narrative that the movie seems to be based on.

Tannishtha Chatterjee’s ‘Rat-a-tat’ is the story of two seemingly-diametrically-opposed women, one an enthusiastic young adult from a humble home (Rinku Rajguru), the other a distrusting homemaker in her sixties (Lillete Dubey): both come together coincidentally during the lockdown and open up to each other about their lives and experiences. Each helps the other resolve a part of their worries and gives the other a sense of comfort in the uncertain times birthed by the virus. The film uses symbolism effectively and conveys meaning and emotion through beautiful camerawork. Themes of linguistic diversities, the tenderness innate to human beings, and the longing for love are touched upon. Music is introduced as an element of the plot which lends to its power in the film.

Avinash Arun’s ‘Vishaanu’ portrays the Indian migrant laborers’ distress by showing the family of a painter (Abhishek Banerjee): him, his wife (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan), and their son. The combination of powerful acting and script brings to the fore various themes: the differentiated impact of the Virus, the concept of ‘home’, class disparities, and the futility of opulence. The laborers stay behind in Bombay to collect their pay instead of walking across the nation, back home to Rajasthan. They break into a sample flat in a half-constructed high-rise where they live surreptitiously till they are discovered and forced to head back ‘home’ without their pay. The film closes with the three of them walking down an empty road which is surrounded by buildings, and a shot of the home that they left behind - luxurious, lavishly furnished, empty.

‘Vishaanu’ seemed to us to be the most powerful work in the movie owing to it being grounded in the actual workers’ crisis in India - something that the government refuses to accept the extent of even today. The film sets the tone for the last film in the anthology: Nitya Mehra’s ‘Chaand Mubarak’, a heart-warming story of a well-to-do senior lady who lives alone (Ratna Pathak Shah) and an auto driver Rafiq who is away from his family (Shardul Bharadwaj). Holding in line with the previous films, the protagonists are apprehensive, perhaps even mistrustful, of each other, but thaw as they bond over what is human. Along these lines, the face masks are shown as a barrier between people: pulled up when one is reticent or vulnerable, and taken away when one is invested in the conversation. Set during the month of Ramadan, the protagonists’ bond is shown as they greet each other “Chaand Mubarak” through smiling faces. The actors perform splendidly, blending with their characters; their voices loud even in the scenes where there is no dialogue.

Apart from crisp acting and raw emotions to keep you glued to the screen, Unpaused delivers an unparalleled treat in visual aesthetics, with smooth transitions and very millennial-appealing tones with pastels, metallics, and neons bringing in a freshness rare in the Indian movie scene. A science fiction, futuristic, dystopian and virtually inspired theme runs in the first film ‘Glitch’ adding to the opposite undertones for both the characters, pastels and bold pink's ruling Ayesha's world, perhaps a smart reflection of her inner personality: confident and driven. Whereas Ahan is swept in a blue undertone, with splashes of red, a part of his mercurial, sappy and always worried - overthinking nature. Everything from the costumes to the interior blends in perfectly with the moods of the characters. Such intelligent use of camera work creating a truly virtual dating experience is an achievement for the makers, and definitely makes this film a class apart from its contemporaries. In ‘Apartment’ the seriousness of the story changes the mood into a darker tone, revealing the complex emotions that the characters are undergoing. In a similar vein, Devika’s home and the “Pots” are symbolic of her state of mind, as she doesn’t want to let anyone in on her problems, and keeps pushing Chirag out of her life more than once. Further, In ‘Vishaanu’ the setting perfectly captures the class divide, with architectural nuances like the concrete unoccupied building in which the couple live as squatters. Similarly in ‘Rat - a - tat’, affluence is reflected in the home that becomes a central point in the conversations of both characters. ‘Chaand Mubarak’ has the typical Mumbai vibe, with the sea in the backdrop, and bluish undertones, making for a visually calming experience till the end. Therefore, for a curious cinema lover, a film ripe with symbolism and aesthetics like Unpaused makes for an intriguing watch.

Overall, Unpaused is a film that perfectly brings out the anxiety of everyday lockdown experiences, and is definitely worth watching. The makers have done an excellent job through their timeless vision. Years from now when the coming generations describe the Indian experience of the COVID 19 Pandemic, Unpaused might just be their go-to film to understand the collective memory of a time that our generation shall never ever forget. So if there is one movie you must end your 2020 with, let it be Unpaused.

A Night Owl original, this piece has been authored by Pallavi Singh and Yastika Sharma.

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