Amazon Prime Video’s latest offering Unpaused features five short stories, directed by Nikkhil Advani, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Raj & DK, Nitya Mehra, and Avinash Arun. One of the segments of the film titled Chaand Mubarak, directed by Mehra, is centred around a middle-aged single woman Uma, played by Ratna Pathak Shah, who is forced to seek the help of a young rickshaw driver Rafique (Shardul Bhardwaj) to run some errands during the coronavirus-induced lockdown. As these two strangers spend time together, they form an unlikely friendship.
Through her film, Mehra, who also directed popular web series Made In Heaven, wants the audience to learn to trust again. With Chaand Mubarak, she intends to show “that you can find the most unlikely friendship in the strangest of people.”
Recently, we got to talk to Nitya Mehra about her latest release and being on the set amid the pandemic.
What is Chaand Mubarak about? What is the intent of the film?
To put it simply, it’s a film about learning to trust again. Societal structures over the years have anyhow led to serious polarisation, and COVID-19 seems to have widened that divide. So, this was an opportunity that I got to portray how two people, from opposite sides of the track with a very different opinion on life, come together and find common ground which is loneliness. It is about how we do not reach out to people because our lives are so insular. We live in our little bubble. We choose to make that life as exciting as possible. But very often we forget what being human is. This film is very conversational. You can exist with your opinion on life, and I can exist with my opinion on life, and yet we can find common ground. So, it was just about exploring these little things.
Did COVID-19 restrictions restrict your storytelling in any manner?
It is frustrating. I’m not going to deny that. But the thing is, we’ve already been given these parameters. And we as human beings learn to adapt. For me, I was happy that I was getting the chance to work with friends and with actors that I’ve never worked with and whose work I really have enjoyed in the past. So, there was a lot to be grateful for. Yet there is obviously a level of frustration because I remember talking to Ratna Pathak Shah, and she couldn’t understand because I had got my mask on. But, after the first shot, I forgot that we were in COVID-19 times.
Given the uncertain times we are living in, how important do you think it is to ‘celebrate new beginnings’?
We definitely wanted to use the lens of hope and talk about new beginnings. But at the same time, as filmmakers, it’s also important to portray the world that we live in, realistically. I really wanted to tell a story about finding the most unlikely friendship in the strangest of people. For me, this kind of unlikely friendship was about new beginnings. There may be a commentary that may come through in the film. It’s not just about celebrating friendship. It’s also a commentary on the societal structure that we as human beings have created for ourselves.
We heard you didn’t allow Shardul Bhardwaj and Ratna Pathak Shah to meet before the shoot. Why so?
This film was not about a family that is stuck in COVID-19 together. It’s about two strangers that meet for the first time. I don’t know something got in me and I said, ‘I don’t want Ratna and Shardul to meet.’ I wanted there to be a divide between them and didn’t want them to become familiar before they go on set. I was trying some method kind of madness in my head as a director. So I did separate readings with Shardul and Ratna. There is a big difference between my characters Uma and Rafique as there is in Shardul and Ratna. It’s an age, class and personality difference, and I just thought that let them not meet.
How was your experience of working on an anthology film?
Working on the anthology was nice because I got to collaborate with other filmmakers. We had such a blast though we didn’t get to meet one another. Also, to take the same theme and have different perspectives on it is such a great reflection of the human mind.
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