'Unpaused' gave me opportunity to talk about societal structures amid pandemic, says Nitya Mehra

Komal Panchamatia
·4-min read

Mumbai, Dec 17 (PTI) Director Nitya Mehra, who has helmed the short 'Chaand Mubarak' for Amazon's anthology feature 'Unpaused', says the movie is a relevant commentary on the 'polarised' state of society today.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic that has gripped the entire world, the streamer created 'Unpaused', which is made up of five short films from noted Hindi filmmakers -- Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, Nikkhil Advani, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Avinash Arun and Mehra.

Shot in compliance with government rules and regulations for COVID-19, the shorts explore themes of new beginnings, search for hope and reflection on life.

Mehra's short 'Chaand Mubarak' features seasoned actor Ratna Pathak Shah as a single and upper-class woman, who takes the help of a young rickshaw driver (Shardul Bhardwaj) to run errands around the city.

With 'Chaand Mubarak', Mehra said, the aim was to highlight the fault lines of class divide in the society, laid bare by the pandemic.

'(Through the short) I wanted to say (what) I have been feeling a lot lately that we have never been as polarised as today or I have never seen people being as polarised as they are today.

'We are quick to judge that if a person has this certain view, then they are like that. We are a result of where we are born or what resources we have. So, you are not in a position to judge another person as your lives are not the same,' Mehra told PTI in an interview over Zoom.

The filmmaker, who made her directorial debut with 2016's 'Baar Baar Dekho', said it was an instant yes when the makers approached her for 'Unpaused' as she was eagerly waiting to be on a set.

'We were fortunate as creative people to be able to express ourselves during this time. Let's hope it (film) can stay on for many years and remind us of this time,' she said.

Mehra said the idea for the short came from a story she read about a rickshaw driver who would often help 'an old but a not-so nice woman'.

According to the filmmaker, this story is appropriate for the current times as people are suspicious of each other in the wake of the pandemic.

'I didn't want to make a film about COVID-19 only. The societal structures we have created in this world have existed for centuries. This was an opportunity to deal with that and showcase how we have lost the ability to trust one another.

'With the pandemic, people have become so paranoid and there is a certain judgement about the people who have COVID-19. But if you have the opportunity to interact with another person, you will realise you are not that different from each other.' The filmmaker revealed she was keen to cast Shah but was not sure if the actor would say yes to the project.

'I had never worked with her. I was also worried whether actors of her age would say yes due to COVID-19.

'I said, 'I want to tell you about this character of an independent woman, who has lived by herself, she is very strong.' And she said, 'Do we know any woman who is not strong?' I thought I have my Uma. She fit the character well. She said yes soon.' Mehra said she refrained from having a reading session between Shah and Bhardwaj as she wanted them to be strangers who meet for the first time on the sets.

'She liked the fact that I could keep them separate because even in the rickshaw there is a divide between them,' she added.

For Bhardwaj, who broke out with his performance in Prateek Vats' satirical feature 'Eeb Allay Ooo!', it was a dream come true to collaborate with Shah.

'My mother was jumping with happiness that I was going to work with Ratna ma'am. She has grown up watching ma'am and respecting her. It was a delight and privilege for me to act with her at an early point (in my career).' The actor said it was essential for him to live up to the dignity of his character.

'Just because the guy drives rickshaw doesn't mean he has to be the most parochial person on the planet, it is a falsity. The idea that you live in the posh apartment doesn't give you the right to understand the politics of caste or gender better,' he added.

'Unpaused' is slated to premiere on Friday. PTI KKP RB RDS RDS