It’s not every day that we come across an anthology series in India that manages to pull you in and make you smile, despite such a grim set-up. ‘Unpaused: Naya Safar’ is a 5-part series with each episode lasting 30-minutes, set during the peak of the COVID second wave in India. Every person in the country, whether affected or not, will never forget the horrors and the turmoil of those few months. So, the idea of watching the series bought a degree of apprehension in us.
While there was the curiosity of an average content consumer to watch this series that was receiving such critical acclaim, there was also a sliver of dread of revisiting a chapter of our lives that we would rather be nothing but a distant memory. Nevertheless, we took the plunge, and honestly, we are glad we did. Despite the show’s very accurate representation of the effect of the pandemic on our lives, it reflected the biggest lesson we all have collectively learned during that time, and that is, that life goes on.
The first story in the ‘Unpaused: Naya Safar’ anthology is about a couple living in Mumbai when the wife loses her job due to the pandemic and the strife it puts on their relationship. This is the one story in the anthology that will probably be the most relatable to audiences. While we see that the husband is trying his best to cheer up his wife and is, overall, a very stand-up guy, it is the very insidious nature of gender dynamics that silently loom over even the most modern couples that makes this story hit home. The woman is keenly aware of it, and we can sense the fear she carries that she might not be respected in the marriage if she is not able to provide an equal financial contribution to the relationship, a fate that generations of women have suffered.
There is one particular thing she says during a fight with her husband, that is, “It isn’t said but the expectation is there,” which sums up the basis for the unequal distribution of labor in every household, a truth that is not easily acknowledged. We do see a good ending to this story, the kind that comes from not just love but also some critical thinking and reflection and gives hope that your significant other can learn to be a feminist without the breakdown of the relationship.
The second story of ‘Unpaused: Naya Safar’ is about a woman working in a COVID war room when she gets the chance to avenge her son’s death. It is shown how her son committed suicide due to the apathy of a certain person, and currently, that person’s life is quite literally in the woman’s hands. We see her dilemma at holding onto what is probably her only chance at justice for her son, which clearly conflicts with her conscience. Without giving too many spoilers, let’s say that the decision is taken away from her hands, and while we see grief at the justice denied to her, we also see the relief of a spotless conscience when she takes a deep breath by taking off her mask on an empty road.
It is the next scene, though, that makes us smile, when we see her buy a bunch of pens because of the ever-present shortage in the war room, a gesture that is reflective of how she has moved on from the day and how she intends for her life to go on.
The third story is about three thieves stuck in a warehouse with the loot, which they are unable to sell because of the nationwide lockdown. This episode is the only one in the entire ‘Unpaused: Naya Safar’ series that carries significant notes of comedy. While there’s not much of a lesson here, it is a representation of some of the more absurdist situations of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown and actually makes you laugh out loud in a few scenes.
Gond Ke Laddu
The fourth story of ‘Unpaused: Naya Safar’ is a story of love. The love of a mother for her daughter, that of a wife for her husband, and just the overall goodness of people is the one thing that has made sense in the chaos of the pandemic. A delivery boy meets with an accident on his way to make the delivery, in which the contents of the parcel are destroyed. He needs a five-star rating to be able to keep his job, and hope for that is quickly vanishing in the face of this disaster.
With the help of his wife, he restores those contents again, but the story is not just about that. It is in the final minutes of it that we are introduced to the true beauty of the episode, and it would be fair to say that when the couple hugs each other in tears, it ends up warming our hearts as well.
It is the fifth and final story that is the true masterpiece of the ‘Unpaused: Naya Safar’ anthology. It follows a worker in a cremation ground as he goes about preparing the pyre for the dead bodies and, in most cases, setting them on fire himself due to the relatives’ not being there or not being willing to come close for fear of Corona. This is a grim recollection of events past and a horrifying reminder of the calculative nature of grief. This is a man who sees plenty of it. He has seen people break down completely, and he has also seen people not willing to come close to the pyre to perform the last rites. Those latter, being handed the ashes of their loved ones in a vessel, for them to touch it only after spraying sanitiser on it, is an indication of how cremation is more of a process for them than an expression of grief. But throughout it all, what we see is the love of this man for his son and his father.
As he teaches his son to be brave and encourages him to study for a better future even in the face of such adverse conditions as homelessness, while waiting for the news of his father, who is in the hospital after testing COVID positive, we see the real grit and determination of human perseverance and what it means to love and live for the family. It would be unfair to say more about the story, and we mean it when we say that if nothing else in the anthology, at least watch this part of it.
The only reason we are stopping ourselves from calling ‘Unpaused: Naya Safar’ a must watch is because of the reminder it can be of a time that will never be forgotten, but if you are in a space to not be triggered, you should watch it. The entire ‘Unpaused: Naya Safar’ anthology is a commentary on class differences and how they have played into the lives of people, even the seemingly privileged ones.
While all of the stories have a “happy” ending, we know that there is another grim situation in sight. The ‘Unpaused: Naya Safar’ anthology also gives the nod to the empathy of frontline workers, like when the inspector reduces the fine when she sees that the people don’t have any money, or when the police constables in charge offer a man tea when they know that he has been working in a crematorium all day, or even the doctor, who understands the need to cut some slack for the woman who is struggling with her mental health in the war room. Each and every one of these instances softened the blows of those few months by a little. And at the end of each story, it’s how we know that it is a new day and we need to move on, being grateful for what we have while reminiscing about what we lost that makes this anthology a 10/10. So yes, watch it and take a step forward to being a more empathetic person because that’s what it’s about at the end of the day.
‘Unpaused: Naya Safar’ is a 5-part mini-series in the form of individual stories directed by five different directors. It is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.