It is surprisingly coincidental that ever since the pandemic began, anthologies have come in abundance on streaming platforms and coming in as a first is Unpaused: Naya Safar which is the continuation of new stories but still set in the pandemic.
What is amazing though that Unpaused: Naya Safar is a huge upgrade over the original that released back in 2020. In that only one stood out, but in this one, two stories and one more almost stands out.
Here is my review of the five stories of Unpaused: Naya Safar (don't worry, keeping it short)
Story: The Couple
Directed by: Nupur Asthana
Rating: ** 1/2 (2.5/5)
The first one is probably the most relatable one if you are a middle-class yet fairly affluent urban resident like me (barring having a partner though). The idea of working from home while trying to juggle household chores and still trying to be considerate about other members of the family and even the househelp - is something we have all tried our best to do for the past two years.
But what is also real and relatable is how the pandemic has led to layoffs and that is what The Couple deals with. The only problem with this short is that it tries to cover everything in the short span it has been granted. From a happy start to a customary monologue argument to a fairly happy ending - it feels like ticking boxes thus not feeling entirely organic. However, the brilliant performances from Dhanwanthary and Painyuli and their on-screen chemistry is what The Couple earns brownie points for. Especially with Dhanwanthary, in the monologue argument, not once do you feel that this is a rehearsed conversation.
The Couple had the potential and while it doesn't live up to it, the leads make it absolutely watchable.
Story: War Room
Cast: Geetanjali Kulkarni
Directed by: Ayappa KM
Rating: **** (4/5)
Firstly, it is a delight to see a fine actor like Geetanjali Kulkarni getting centre stage and delivering what you expect of her, a fine performance. War Room also has the second-best premise in all the five stories as well. Kulkarni plays Sugandha Waghmare, a middle-aged lady who lives a modest life but is working in the 'war room' which is basically a centre of hard-working people who are on calls non-stop trying to help anyone and everyone who is either symptomatic or has contracted COVID-19. But it is that one call that Kulkarni's Waghmare gets which puts her in a moral conundrum.
Ayappa KM's direction is at its absolute finest here. As a fanatic, I am a sucker of the little things and the details that are subtly placed in a story and War Room is full of it. These hard-working people are doing so in a setting where the water is leaking from the shelf, there is this weird yet very real lack of pens to note down details and one-of-a-kind characters. It is Kulkarni's performance that lifts the brilliant script and storytelling even further where even though, she has a mask on for a large part of the runtime, she is able to convey the emotions so well and you cannot help but feel the same moral conundrum that she faces. Also, this short has the best ending - not happy or not sad just the finest way to weave and end a story.
Story: Teen Tigada
Cast: Saqib Saleem, Ashish Verma and Sam Mohan
Directed by: Ruchir Arun
Rating: *1/2 (1.5/5)
While the rating might be explanatory enough to understand but even then what is sad that Teen Tigada had the potential to be amongst the best of the five shorts but falls flat. Incidentally, this one is also the longest one of the five - clocking almost 34 minutes. The premise is indeed fascinating where three local and small-time goons are forced to stay together where just as they were ready to deliver a 'consignment', the government announces lockdown and hence, they have nowhere to go. Of course, all of them have backstories but as they struggle to live with minimal food, even disdain towards each other, the saga becomes about them overcoming all this together.
While Saleem, Verma and Mohan deliver decent performances, there is just a bland tone to this short which never picks up. One of the issues definitely is the runtime where there are a couple of scenes which are literally repeated. In fact, one scene of the cops coming in and berating the trio feels so unnecessary to the premise. The concept, so fascinating doesn't get better and in fact, this short has probably the weakest climax of all the others. The minor saving grace, as mentioned above are the decent performances but especially that of Sam Mohan as Ajeet.
Gond Ke Laddoo
Story: Gond Ke Laddoo
Cast: Neena Kulkarni, Lakshvir Saran and Darshana Rajendran
Directed by: Shikha Makan
Rating: *** (3/5)
Another story in the list of shorts that almost reaches its potential but not entirely. Gond Ke Laddoo stands out of the rest of the list immediately because unlike others, this one isn't about the darker, murkier or depressing side of the pandemic but in fact chooses to focus on humanity, hope and love. As Mrs. Sushila Tripathi (Neena Kulkarni), who lives alone, struggles to deal with technology in order to send a courier to her daughter that has gond ke laddoo, she finally manages to do that. However, the courier boy who is delivering her package ends up being in an accident leading the package to be spilled. What transpires is a tale of humanity and love that transcends.
The idea here is fascinating and unlike highlighting the perils of the pandemic, Gond Ke Laddoo focuses on how one human can help another human despite not knowing them and one needs is love. But the story faces a huge problem and that is convenience - in order to prove a point in the limited time alloted, it gets convenient for the script to reach its conclusion faster. The story does end on a heartening note and leaves you smiling. The find for one and all here though is Darshana Rajendran, who is primarily a Malayalam female actor. However, not only is her Hindi fluent but her acting prowess is amazing as well.
Cast: Nagraj Popatrao Manjule and Arjun Karche
Directed by: Nagraj Popatrao Manjule
Rating: ****1/2 (4.5/5)
Justifying the cliche - saving the best for the last. Vaikunth is not only the best short out of the entire list but also one of the best shorts that I have seen in recent times. At the helm of direction and even acting is leading man Nagraj Popatrao Manjule (Fandry, Sairat) who delivers a masterpiece. Manjule plays Vikas Chavan, a poor man working at Vaikunth Crematorium whose daily work is burning dead bodies on the pyre, getting rid of the ashes and is a single father. Monotony, class divide and struggle is a routine for him and while his work of dealing with dead bodies during the pandemic has increased, he also worries as his own father is struck with COVID-19.
Manjule's short is a masterclass in filmmaking and attention to the little things. Even in a 30 minute short, the first few minutes are dialogue-less and probably the most impactful ones. The scene where Vikas is eating his food while a mourning mother cries at the top of her lungs in the background, the sign of 'yaha ameer aur gareeb ka bistar ek hi hota hai' (the rich and poor rest together here) at the crematorium, the dark humor of when a mourning man is informed that he is crying at the wrong pyre - are such brilliant moments that absolutely bowls you over. The entire 30 minutes are neatly woven together and even in a matter of few scenes, the story also becomes about a father and son relationship. Vaikunth is a must-watch. Period!
Have you seen all the shorts? Which has been your favorite? Leave in your comments below.