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Unpaused Naya Safar review: Gitanjali Kulkarni, Nagraj Manjule’s shorts stand out in this masked-up anthology

Unpaused Naya Safar review: The pandemic anthology has some nice touches, but is beset by looseness and familiarity, and stretched to the point where even the short film format feels extra.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Written by Shubhra Gupta |
January 21, 2022 12:35:28 pm
Unpaused Naya Safar reviewUnpaused Naya Safar review: Gitanjali Kulkarni, Nagraj Manjule's episodes stand out.

Unpaused, Naya Safar is better than part one. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it hasn’t fully been able to get past Corona-induced fatigue evident in so many dealing-with-the-pandemic creative flourishes. It’s as much the filmmaker’s fault, as our own exhaustion with the world around us. How much newness can you infuse in being locked in an apartment, all masked up?

Still, two of the five episodes stand out. That’s where you can see both plot and performance come together to give us lives and situations we may not have encountered before.

Nagraj Popatrao Manjule’s ‘Vaikunth’, in which he plays the lead, is a stark reminder of how the marginalised are pushed out even more when an all-pervasive disaster engulfs us. He plays a man trying desperately to stay alive even as he is surrounded by death: his work at a cremation ground, ironically named ‘Vaikunth’ (Heaven), is back-breaking and spirit-breaking. We are reminded of the harshness of the second wave in 2021, when ambulances upon ambulances carrying the dead, all sewn up from head to toe, fetched up at cremation grounds, accompanied by mourners in PPE suits.

The ritual of giving ‘agni’ to the body on the pyre is significant. It makes the ‘dust-to-dust’ journey real: for many, the reconciliation of the loss begins at that moment. But if you are happy to let someone else light the pyre because you are petrified of getting infected, where does that leave you? And how can a child survive the finality of a ‘shamshaan’ ghat? Manjule’s choice of actors — the faces look as if they have arisen from the soil — makes the whole thing authentic, and renders the segment poignant and moving.

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Geetanjali Kulkarni’s presence can lift anything. In ‘War Room’, she plays a school teacher working at a Covid crisis centre, holding out hope: please give us your number, we will call as soon as a bed is free. Her companions who sit on either side, the rushed-off-their-feet doctors and the supervisors, the ‘sarkaari babus’ who turn up for ‘inspection’ and a self-important selfie, bring alive an overburdened system struggling to keep pace with a lethal virus.

There’s a reference to money being exchanged for a hospital bed, a heinous practice in play in some parts of the country at the height of the crisis last summer. There’s a volunteer who spends all his time fixing his broken spectacles, ignoring the phone at his desk. The phones never stop ringing. And there’s Kulkarni, who brings to her character, within the short span of the half-hour, a weight brought upon by personal tragedy, even as she is faced with a tough moral dilemma: can you take a life for a life? ‘War Room’ gets a little muddled when it arrives at this point, but Kulkarni makes the whole totally worth your time.

The other three, ‘Gond Ke Ladoo’, ‘The Couple’, and ‘Teen Tigada’ have interesting elements. An old-fashioned mum (Neena Kulkarni) learns how to use a courier service to send lovingly made ‘ladoos’ to her daughter via a circuitous route, involving an exploited gig economy worker (Lakshvir Saran, so good in ‘Meel Pathhar’) and his hard-working-from-home wife (Darshana Rajendran). The Couple is, well, about a couple (Priyanshu Painyuli and Shreya Dhanwantary), urban, smart, clearly better off than the one we meet in ‘Ladoo’ but still trying to keep themselves afloat in their high-tension corporate pink-slip environment. And ‘Teen Tigaada’ has a trio of good-hearted no-gooders (Saqib Saleem, Ashish Verma and Sam Mohan) left to fend for themselves during a never-ending lockdown.

Some nice touches, but beset by looseness and familiarity, and stretched to the point where even the short film format feels extra.

Maybe Unpaused part 3, if there is one, will address this?

Unpaused Naya Safar cast: Geetanjali Kulkarni, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Priyanshu Painyuli, Saqib Saleem, Ashish Verma, Sam Mohan, Darshana Rajendran, Lakshvir Singh, Neena Kulkarni, Nagraj Manjule
Unpaused Naya Safar directors: Ruchir Arun, Shikha Makan, Nagraj Manjule, Nupur Asthana, Ayappa KM
Unpaused Naya Safar star rating: 2.5 stars

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