Amazon Prime Video India’s Unpaused is an anthology film made of shorts by directors Raj and DK, Nikkhil Advani, Tannishtha, Aviansh Arun, and Nitya Mehra, and features Ratna Pathak Shah, Shardul Bhardwaj, Abhishek Banerjee, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Rinku Rajguru, Lillete Dubey, Richa Chadha, Sumeet Vyas, and Ishwak Singh, that was conceptualised and shot during the COVID-19 lockdown. I was lucky enough to talk to Raj, DK, Gulshan, and Saiyami, who have worked together in the segment titled Glitch, how their real-life anxieties fueled the film, what’s dating going to be like post this pandemic, and more.
Raj and DK, why Glitch?
Raj: “It was called New Beginnings, that was the initial idea. As to how we should make something that represents or brings about new beginnings. Something of hope, something of light, and it makes sense because everything else was so dreary and gloomy all around that to pick something that was on the other side of it, or at least was on the lighter side of it. So, we challenged ourselves to make a film that still stays true to what we are going through and yet provides a smile on your face. And we wanted it to be a little quirky. So, we got a really nice story from Reshu Nath and she had an idea and then we developed a pretty quirky film with the quirk being [focused] on the craft, the filmmaking part of it than the story itself. The story is pretty important and twisted. So, I think it’s a sweet little, delicious, chocolate. Hopefully.”
Gulshan: “D.K., do you have something to say” [just putting this part in because it rhymes hilariously]
D.K.: “No, no, that was it. Like the idea was to make a film that was about hope in these dark times. But we also wanted to make a movie that stood the test of time. Because while we were conceiving this idea and when were we gonna make it, none of us knew when the pandemic was going to end. So, we couldn’t be sure whether this was going to air during the pandemic. For all we know, the pandemic could’ve ended yesterday and we could’ve been watching this in a new era. So, the one thing that we had in mind is that it should not look like a ‘made in lockdown’ kind of movie, even though it was made right after the lockdown, during all these restrictions. It had to be a film on its own merit, a good film, a good looking film, that was shot well and not something that had to be [low quality] because of the restrictions. We wanted it to stand the test of time. You watch it next year, it should look like any other film that would be made next year. That was the goal.”
[I butt in here to say that while watching it, that was one of the main things that I noticed that it looked so good!]
Raj: “That was a very conscious decision. The initial instinct was to go and shoot. We, D.K. and I, thought that we’d go and film it. And we tried to also but then we had a budget and we had a really cool DOP, a really cool story, and super good-looking actors, we thought we had to make something special and why not do the unexpected? And why not make a visually exciting story?”
And Gulshan and Saiyami, what was your response to Glitch?
Gulshan: “Well, if something can get me to jump out of my bed, then that’s a good story [laughs]. It’s a little thumb of rule I have realised. I read all my scripts lying down and if it gets me out of bed, I am doing this [laughs]. And this happened. So, I actually acted it out as I was reading it. I’d read 3-4 lines and then act it out on my own. So, that was fun. It was totally unexpected. I wasn’t really expecting to work. Just sitting throughout this pandemic. I was already filming something. So, I was waiting for them to give me the dates so I could go back to Rajasthan and finish that. Then this happened. So, I enjoyed reading it, I enjoy Raj and D.K.’s work, I enjoy Pankaj’s work who’s our fabulous DOP, I and Reshu have worked together before. So, it was a great opportunity for me to sort of be a part of their work, their sensibilities, and I think we gelled really well right from the beginning. I enjoyed reading it. I enjoyed shooting for it, 3 days. I usually don’t myself so much in short formats. I don’t like short formats. I don’t want it to end [laughs]. Short films usually end in like 3-4 days. So, that was a tragedy. It was my first time with Saiyami and she had a very tough job. And it was commendable to see the kind of work and dedication she put to get these things right. I wouldn’t have done it. I would’ve said no. The fact that she said yes and she went through it is kind of motivating for me to say yes to such things in the future.”
Saiyami: “My reaction was [folds hands] please, please, please, please, please, I want to do this film on many levels. The first level was that I had had enough of sitting at home and pretending to be using our time well. I really had enough of it because it was seven months into doing the same thing, over and over again. Then there was the level of working with someone like Raj and DK, whose work I have really enjoyed a lot! Their work has always stood out to me because it’s been quirky and at the same time there has been an undertone of stating something important without being preachy. Gulshan, who I’ve really enjoyed [working with]. Shaitan is a film that I can watch over and over again because it’s a film I really enjoy. And then there was Pankaj. So, it was a beautiful team, Reshu had written, coming together. And then there was also the script and my character where I feel that it’s a character which I really wanted to do as an actor. It was just a very exciting role.”
Did any of your real-life pandemic related anxieties spill over into the making of the film?
Raj: “It started from there. The first thing that is people are cautious, then they’re over-cautious, or ultra-cautious, initially at least. But then we started something more than that. That’s just the first layer of the story. Then there’s more to the character and once Saiyami’s character comes in, there’s another layer. It’s a short film with layers that you peel through as you go forward.”
D.K.: “Yes, I think every two-three minutes you’ll be unpacking a new revelation. Gulshan plays a hypochondriac. So, he’s super-duper sensitive to every little thing. That’s one of the key things. And we put Saiyami’s character at the other end of the spectrum because of who she is. That’s why we were juxtaposing these opposites.”
Gulshan: “It is very relatable. While shooting it and the nature of the script, the nature of the story, and the details of the story, it is really relatable. To anybody, not just me. In my position, if anybody else was there, they would also relate to it very strongly. Because we were going through a lot of these things. We were experiencing a lot of those things, except that I had to amplify it a lot more because I play a hypochondriac. It’s just that. Of course, there is imagination in the writing and interpretation and all those things. But it’s easy because you’re these are just amplified versions of what is really happening to you. So, in that way, it’s easy to comprehend. Perhaps that’s why in a short period of time we could really put something like this together and everybody knew what they were doing. Everybody was on the same page.”
Saiyami: “I completely agree with what the three of them said. At some point in the pandemic, we’ve all been what Gulshan’s character was for the first few weeks. My father is still at the same level of paranoia. So, I think everyone in some way has related to what Gulshan’s character is in the film. And as far as my character is concerned as I said earlier, there’s always a subtle undertone of a very strong message that Raj and D.K. wrote across. And it is something which has happened, unfortunately, that they’ve captured through maybe just a line. So, they don’t overdo it. They know exactly what they want to push. So, they don’t overdo it, which I feel is wonderful that they know what to say without being controversial or overdramatic.”
In your opinion, do you think the norms of dating have changed now? Like before dating, you’ve to get a COVID test, one while dating, and one after dating?
Saiyami: “I hope that it doesn’t come to that because that’s a very frustrating place to be where I’ll say that ‘okay I’m going on a date but can you show me your COVID-19 negative test result’. No, I don’t want that to happen [laughs]”
Gulshan: “Vaccine is on its way!”
D.K.: “And even saying ‘I know yesterday you were safe, but what about today?’. What if you’ve contracted between yesterday and today [laughs]. So, there is uncertainty. But I hope not. I mean it’s a pandemic. It’s a phase [crosses fingers] and hopefully, it’ll soon pass and go to our new normal. The post-pandemic period that we are talking about, the way it is in the film, is a little different.”
Gulshan: “I really hope, this is just a hope because I don’t how society is going to react eventually, that people really value relationships, like falling in love, a lot more. Because you couldn’t. So, when you’re deprived of something and when you can have it, you’d value it more, you’d respect it more. I hope that people can find that for themselves.”
D.K.: “And also like two years from now or one year from now, a bunch of us are sitting in a room and chatting and drinking and being carefree, I hope that even for one minute we could all think about how we couldn’t do all that.”
Gulshan: “Yeah, we couldn’t even go out for a walk. So, it was that bad.”
Are you envious of the characters in the story that they got their conclusion, but you’ve to come back into the real world and see that your stories are still going on through the pandemic?
Krishna: “I think that the characters in our film are still going. We are all in the same boat. [laughs]”
Gulshan: “I am not envious at all. I have a good mix of pessimism and optimism. I am very optimistic right now about how the future’s going to pan out. I am very optimistic about myself.”
D.K.: “There’s a vaccine around the corner.”Gulshan: “[sings along] There’s a vaccine around the corner. [reverting to a normal tone] Like, I am not necessarily depending on the vaccine. I am just saying generally. Generally, I mean, there are a lot of positives also to take from this period.”
Saiyami: “I just feel that I am not envious either. I just think that we should keep this time in mind instead of totally forgetting about this time and five or six years down the line, just remember what happened, what it taught us. And as far as the characters who found conclusions, as Raj said, they haven’t. That’s how it is with all of us. It takes some time. It’s a journey.”
Truer words haven’t been spoken. I love the optimism that Raj, D.K., Gulshan, and Saiyami exude, and I think it has kind of rubbed off on me, a perpetually pessimistic person, as well. And as Saiyami says, it’s a process and it’ll take me some time to go from being paranoid to being sane to being aware of the time that we’ve spent during this pandemic. But during this time, I genuinely hope that they keep making movies and/or shows like Unpaused. As in movies or shows that are qualitatively like Unpaused (Because it is really, really good and may or may not be one of my favourite movies of the year). Short or long, it doesn’t matter, until and unless I can get to see more facets of their talent on-screen.
Cover artwork by Bhavya Poonia/Mashable India