‘Unpaused: Naya Safar’: Navigating marriage during the pandemic


Actors Shreya Dhanwanthary and Priyanshu Painyuli, and director Nupur Asthana speak about working on the upcoming Amazon Prime anthology

After the success of its earlier anthology Unpaused in 2020 — which spoke of life during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic — Amazon Prime now brings a sequel, titled Unpaused: Naya Safar.

The new series is also set to showcase five unique stories that provide a window into how the pandemic has changed us, making us value life and emotions more than ever.

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One of the segments in the anthology is The Couple, featuring Shreya Dhanwanthary (The Family Man) and Priyanshu Painyuli (Mirzapur 2), and directed by Nupur Asthana (Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge, Four More Shots Please!). It is a story of a young couple’s relationship which is suddenly jeopardised when the wife finds herself out of a job in the midst of the pandemic. The strain it puts on them makes them re-evaluate their marriage and their world.

The Hindu sat down with the director and the cast of The Couple to talk to them about their experience with OTT platforms, experimenting with anthologies and filmmaking during the pandemic. Exceprts from an interview:

We already saw the first edition of ‘Unpaused’ in 2020; what is something new that audiences can expect this time around from the sequel?

Nupur: The first anthology centred around the pandemic that was happening right in front of us; there was a long lockdown and the anthology explored the problems faced by people then. This time around, we made it after the second wave ended and there was a sense of hope, determination and survival. As we thought the pandemic was waning, we tried to show how people started moving on and adapting to the new normal. Onwards and together.

Shreya: She said it so wonderfully, I don’t have anything to add to that. (laughs)

Do you think the Indian audience is adapting to anthologies well, considering this is a new phenomenon introduced to them only through streaming platforms?

Shreya: I genuinely hope all forms of entertainment, regardless of length, do well.

Priyanshu: I find it really interesting to see different directors trying to tell stories about a similar concept. They are seeing the same theme through a different lens, and are attempting to cover different aspects of the same thing. Earlier, people could not access short films, but I think through the means of anthologies like this, they can watch and appreciate them.

Nupur: Earlier, it was also a business thing. Where could we showcase a short film? It was only at a film festival. We could not get into an arrangement with an exhibitor or a theatre to showcase a short film. With the advent of OTT platforms, there is a theme and there are many voices exploring the theme in different ways which gives the viewer a bouquet of stories that encapsulate the same theme and the same feeling. If somebody is ready to watch ten episodes of a show, I think they are very happy to watch anthologies.

Another advantage with OTTs is that these anthologies will always be on the platform waiting for the viewer, and they can pick it up and watch when they feel like it. This individual viewing experience has given the audience a lot of agency.

What did you do to ensure that your story stood out, and that there was no overlap of ideas considering anthologies require you to stick to one particular theme?

Nupur: I didn’t do anything in particular, as I did not know the storylines of the other teams. The Amazon team is wonderful and they encouraged different stories from filmmakers. They kind of knew all the stories were different from each other. I approached this like I’ve approached every other work of mine; it has to stand its ground whether it is a part of an anthology or not.

Considering some of your notable work came to the audience through web-series, what do you make of the evolution of OTT platforms and their effect on storytelling?

Shreya: I think OTT platforms have been a big blessing. Earlier, it used to be like a big stadium that not many had access to. But with streaming, the playground has become much bigger. This is not only for people in front of the camera; OTT platforms have provided a lot of opportunities to editors, directors and people behind the scenes as well. It is unbelievable how many opportunities they have created for all of us.

A still from the anthology

Priyanshu: The kind of stories we are able to put out — especially on a global stage — is endearing. You are able to tell stories that appeal globally. We are watching Spanish and Korean shows, and in return, they are watching ours… so we cannot put out what was earlier called a ‘formula story’. OTT platforms let us experiment, and as an actor, it is great that we are getting to do such diverse characters.

Your segment in the anthology revolves around a woman losing her job and the toll it takes on her personal relationship. Did you personally see someone go through that during the pandemic?

Nupur: We were all reading about this during the pandemic; a lot of people were laid off in different sectors. What was shocking to me was that more women lost jobs than men. There was a crazy statistic that said around four to six were laid off for every 10 women in the workspace; this kind of enraged me. I also had a couple of friends in media and the corporate world who went through trying times. I was angry about it, wanted to write about it, and it finally found its way into this film and this couple’s relationship.

The release of this new edition of ‘Unpaused’ comes while we are entering the third wave. Do you have anything to say to your audience?

Shreya: I hope there isn’t a third wave, and I hope that it is something we can tackle.

Priyanshu: Watch Unpaused because we’re showing what happened during the second wave, and it is a reminder for people of how bad the situation was back then. It will remind them to have their guard up.

Nupur: They have said pretty much everything. The last two waves have taught us to value human relationships, and to value each other, and I think this will see us through another wave.

Unpaused: Naya Safar premieres January 21, 2022 on Amazon Prime

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