To paraphrase a beloved pop songs of the 1970s: “All You Get From Covid Is Covid Cinema”.
Luckily for us Unpaused Naya Safar is not only well worth our time and attention, this five-tiered omnibus is better more sensitively designed than the first season that came in 2020. Unpaused Naya Safar actually constitutes 4 stories of varying merit, and one outright masterpiece.
Quite like Neeraj Ghaywan’s Geeli Pucchi in the anthology Ajeeb Dastaans, Nagraj Manjule’s Vaikunth in Unpaused is so far ahead of the other four segments it deserved a full feature-length treatment. It’s like the Amitabh Bachchan of the anthology towering above the rest with its razorsharp brilliance and acute insight into human nature during stressful times. An aching darkness spreads over the story as the film’s protagonist , a cremator in a crematorium who suddenly has a full season over his had as corpses drive in to the burning ground in wailing ambulances that couldn’t care less and shrieking relatives whose grief has no comfort.
Nagraj Manjule in the main role confers a haunting tragic ethos on the situation. Day-in and day-out he burns the abandoned bodies unattended by all except those very close; his own father is afflicted and his little son has no roof on his head as the landlord evicts them pleading he has to think of his own health safety. There is death, danger diseases everywhere in Nagraj Manjule’s brilliantly shot uniquely executed story. There are also spurts of savage humour(son weeping at the wrong pyre). Manjule chooses to end this grim tale of a wounded civilization on a note of hope, and a welcome one at that.
Equally grim is War Room, my second-favourite story of the anthology , directed by Ayappa KM about frontline workers grappling in a helpline organization trying to find beds and oxygen cylinders. There is dread of diseases and death shrouding every moment of this heartstopping story. The unfailingly brilliant Gitanjali Kulkarni is teacher turned Covid frontworker with a tragic secret that comes out in an unexpected twist of fate. More than the twist, I loved the sense of imminent doom that the director conveys while keeping the tone of narration steady and calm.
Teen Tigada steers in out of Covid fears as three itinerant labourers are stranded in an abandoned factory with a truckload of expensive goods. The three actors seen on screen are so immersed in their shared world of unalloyed despair that their bouts of anger and hunger seem all too tangible.Director Ruchir Arun’s sheds empathy for the wandering migrants whose future looks so abysmally devoid of hope, and yet there is laughter and sunshine in this story thanks to the three actors Saqib Saleem, Ashish Verma and Sam Mohan specially Sam who is the quietest least expressive of the trio, and perhaps the most wounded.
Gond Ka Laddu plays it over-cute with Neena Gupta locking horns with a courier boy(Lakshvir Singh Sharan) who ruins her surprise for her daughter when the her laddus are crushed in a road accident. What follows is an unbelievable leap of faith, rendered convincing by the heartwarming performances(Darshana Rajendran as the courier boy’s supportive girlfriends is the ultimate spot of sunshine in a world blinded by darkness) and by our desperate need to find some light at the end of the tunnel.
The Couple , the final story of this ambrosial anthology is also highly connectible and genuinely likeable. A young couple, played with understated smartness by Shreya Dhanwanthary and Priyanshu Painyuli, lock horns during the lockdown when the wife loses her job. The taunts, jibes, bitter rage and growing frustration…all have their say in Nupur Asthana’s evocatively shot short film with lissom , if langorous, legs.
The stories even in their weakest moments never fail to wedge themselves in our hearts. The actors are fully invested into bringing back to us episodes and moments from the past two years that resonate with all of us, though in no intrusive aggressive way. Easy does it.