‘Unpaused: Naya Safar’: Neena Kulkarni and director Shikha Makan on the upcoming anthology

The actor-director duo of “Gond Ke Laddu,” one of five short films in the Amazon Prime anthology, talk about their learning during the lockdown, the challenges they faced, and more

All the traumas that humanity faces – plagues and wars – have been romanticized and made immortal through art. The Time of Terror, as Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison puts it, “is precisely when artists get to work.”

COVID-19 has been an unprecedented event in human history, and artists, over the past two years, have found a way to fuse these realities into art, ranging from poetry to novels to by cinema.

The pandemic and myriad restrictions that come with it may have been a tough time for big-budget feature films, many of which saw multiple postponements. However, this period has been a boon for short films and anthologies which have seen reruns on various streaming platforms.

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After spending some time in Indian cinema – remember the likes of Bombay Talkies, Dus Kahaniyaan or even Love Sex Aur Dhokha — Filmmakers now regularly draw from the anthology format. The 2020 Amazon Prime offer Reactivated was one example that capitalized on the trend, also using COVID-19 as a common theme across its segments.

The project included four films which focused on a myriad of experiences during lockdown; from the migrant crisis to digital dating. Now the franchise is back with a sequel titled Without pause: Naya Safar, featuring five new shorts.

Talk to The Hindu, Shikha Makan and Neena Kulkarni, the director-actor duo of one of the short films Gond Ke Laddu (which also stars actors Darshana Rajendran and Lakshvir Singh Saran) talk about their learnings during lockdown, working on an anthology, their hopes for the future and more.

Excerpts from an interview:

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of anthologies on streaming platforms. What do you think of this subgenre?

Shikha: It’s a very interesting format because it’s a short film that gives the freedom to play with the artisanal aspect of the narration, and also to be able to convey a message. Anthologies, when related to a theme, lend themselves to an exceptional viewing experience. The sheer diversity of thought, ideas and expression is very interesting creatively, as a filmmaker. It also helps the public to make more choices.

Shikha Makan

Shikha Makan

Nina: I also made anthologies in feature films! There was a movie I made called Ganda (Fragrance) in Marathi, where director Sachin Kuldalkar has made three unrelated films, but dealing with the same theme: smell. I know this genre; it’s very interesting. It’s like reading short stories and it’s a wonderful opportunity for many people to join us.

Shikha, in an anthology, there are several films and directors. Was there a discussion between the filmmakers to ensure that a common theme was followed, while ensuring that each film was also distinct?

Shikha: The platform’s creative team takes care of it. There was no interaction with the other filmmakers. In fact, I don’t even know the themes of their films; I just saw the trailer and briefly know the title of their movies. It’s nice in a way because you can collaborate with the OTT you work with and the creatives there. At the same time, you have the freedom and freedom to create what you want and not be influenced by what another team creates.

Neena, what has the streaming era brought to you as an actor?

Nina: Oh many, many! I come from a time when there were only plays and films. Later, I saw television literally born in front of me in India, and I got into television myself. I’ve seen a lot of mediums, like daily soap operas or short films, take shape and thrive. It’s also very interesting for the actor to see a new medium because there are new challenges, new people to work with and new ideas to exchange.

Neena Kulkarni in an image from 'Gond Ke Laddu'

Neena Kulkarni in an image from ‘Gond Ke Laddu’

The pandemic has changed human lives as we know it. How has this whole experience changed you as a person and as an artist?

Shikha: A writer is always influenced by the era in which he lives. The pandemic is such a strong and unprecedented experience for all of us. It definitely shaped the way you see the world, whether on your own or not, because now you have to adapt to a certain way of life.

There is also a technical aspect to this; the filmmaking process is different now, as you take precautions and constantly try to be safe and also protect others around you. Some people have had a more fluid relationship with the pandemic, others have had a very difficult experience. All of these things on an emotional level affect me as a person and my perspective.

Nina: Not just as an artist, but I think we’ve all gone through a whole range of emotions and growth. Now I enjoy what I do much more. Not that I liked him any less before, but somehow you took what was happening to you for granted. Now, everything that happens to me is extremely precious to me, not only because of my age, but also because of the circumstances. He added value to everything we have and everything we do.

Shikha, when you tell the story of a pandemic – an ongoing calamity – what are some of the challenges you face?

Shikha: If you are forced to tell a story by circumstances, then you are immersed in it as a filmmaker. It’s a matter of perspective, what approach you take, how you see the pandemic around you and also how it has affected you. Some things influence you, and if you can describe that in a way that resonates with a lot of people, then that’s good. Human stories are stories we always seek, whether tragic or light-hearted.

So where did you find the inspiration for your short ‘Gond Ke Laddu’?

Shikha: There are two parts to this story. One is that old mother who lives alone in a small town far from her daughter and who has this desire to send something special to her daughter. The other part of the story touches on the realities of a delivery man and his wife. Gond ke Laddu, somehow joins these strangers and connects these stories with an unexpected twist in the tale, and leads you to a sweet surprise.

A picture of

A photo of “Gond Ke Laddu”, which is part of the Amazon Prime anthology “Unpaused: Naya Safar”

During lockdown, it was very common for me and my friends to worry about our parents who lived far away. In my family, home-cooked food is very valuable, especially when the elders do pinni. At the same time, there were a lot of stories written about delivery agents as they were on the front line serving people during the pandemic. I constantly interacted with them, as they were the only people we all saw often outside of our families.

And finally, Neena, are there any challenges you want to face today, to challenge yourself as an actor?

Nina: I never really looked for anything because things come to you. I don’t remember taking a break from my acting career. How can I take it now? Acting is a process and a journey and it is never realized.

I chained several roles and I am very lucky to have had a multitude of characters. I’ve played in almost every genre; I think there is nothing left! Now it’s about appreciating what comes my way and being curious about why I was chosen for this particular role over someone else. There’s a lot of competition even among senior actors, so you can’t be complacent. (smiles)

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

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