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A still image of Continuous: Naya Safar. (courtesy: YouTube)

Pour: Shreya Dhanwanthary, Priyanshu Painyuli, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Saqib Saleem, Ashish Verma, Sam Mohan, Darshana Rajendran, Lakshvir Singh Saran, Neena Kulkarni, Nagraj Manjule

Directors: Nupur Asthana, Ayappa KM, Ruchir Arun, Shikha Makan, Nagraj Manjule

Evaluation: 3 stars (out of 5)

Those who suffered as the second wave of Covid-19 ravaged India last year were inevitably and quickly reduced to cold statistics. Death, disease, dwindling employment, displacement, and despair swept over the cities and towns. Many a heartbreaking story was lost in the din. Continuous: Naya Safar, Amazon Prime Video’s second Hindi anthology of pandemic stories, gives fictional form to five such stories, with predictably varying degrees of success.

The anthology presents five interpretations of how the health crisis unfolded as the country, like the rest of the world, lapsed from vigilance at the end of the first wave of coronavirus. Every story touches on a sore point in one way or another.

Unlike the first uninterrupted, released in late 2020, these many short films use non-tangential methods to comment on our collective response to the pandemic. It goes straight to the heart of the matter, telling stories that span a wide spectrum of social realities, from the fate of a young couple in Mumbai with easy corporate jobs and an apartment in Parel, to the struggles of a marginalized attendant at a small-town cremation Floor.

The cremation ground is the setting of the action in the most striking of these five stories – that of Nagraj Manjule Vaikunt. The last of the five films is powerful, sharp and unflinching, but ultimately stubborn in its desire to stare reality in the face. It brings home the horrors of April-May 2021 through the eyes of an overworked man (played by Manjule himself) who cremates the bodies of Covid-19 victims.

As he toils non-stop, the man, Vikas Chavan, faces the prospect of not only losing the rented room he and his nine-year-old son share, but also his elderly father, who is Covid positive. Sand, dirt, pyres and tongues of fire dominate the images in this section shot by Harshavardhan Waghdhare. The story told by the pictures summarizes the fate of Vikas Chavan. He carries out a job as important as any other frontline worker, but is summarily told to vacate his house because the virus has infected his father. He doesn’t have the strength to fight back. He flees with his school-age son directly in front of the crematorium square.

The camera lingers briefly on what is written on one of the walls of the Kramatorium: Yahaan ameer aur gareeb ka bistar ek hi hota hai (The beds here are the same for the rich and the poor). Death is indeed a great leveler, but will life ever be free from discrimination and deprivation for people like Vikas Chavan and his son? Ayappa KM’s War Room, powered by an excellent performance by Geetanjali Kulkarni, is another strong entry. The actress plays Sangeeta Waghmare, a worker in a Covid war room who finds herself caught in a dilemma when she receives a phone call that brings back a fresh memory from two years ago. She sees asking for help as an opportunity to wrestle with the justice she has missed.

Cinematographer Tassaduq Hussain makes every shot count in this story, set in a dark, dingy hive of activity where the phones never stop ringing and everyone is on edge. Amid work pressures exacerbated by the alarming Covid-19 situation, Sangeeta must fight the urge to take law into his own hands, even as the city runs out of hospital beds and ventilators and is gripped by widespread and understandable panic will.

Continuous: Naya Safar Let’s start with The Couple, a light and breezy segment that spotlights a very real issue young professionals have had to grapple with during the pandemic. Directed by Nupur Asthana, the story takes place in an apartment occupied by Akriti (Shreya Dhanwanthary) and Dippy (Priyanshu Painyuli), who work from home.

They both seem to be doing pretty well – one works for an FMCG company, the other is a product development manager with multinational form – until the lady is fired without warning. The setback drives a wedge between Akriti and Dippy as the former tries to come to terms with the trauma of being released despite trying her best. “I feel like I’ve been dumped,” she says. “It’s a job, not a relationship,” Dippy reassures her.

He has no way of knowing that Akriti’s job and their relationship are connected. With their three-year marriage on the verge of collapse, the unforeseen turn of events forces the couple to pause and consider just what they expect from each other. Dhanwanthary and Painyuli make a vibrant couple who thrive on drawing from each other’s energy. The two actors paint a haunting portrait of a modern, urban marriage in times of a pandemic. The couple says nothing particularly new, but reflects an important aspect of a union of equal partners standing against a world desperate for a return to normalcy.

Three petty criminals are the focus of Ruchir Aruns Teenage Tigada, depicting the plight of those who live dangerously and resort to illegal means to survive in a big city. Chandan (Saqib Saleem), Dimple (Ashish Verma) and Ajeet (Sam Mohan) steal a van loaded with expensive electronics and hide out in an abandoned factory until a buyer is found for the shipment.

Their escape plan is thrown into disarray when the rampant virus paralyzes everything. A total lockdown is announced. tempers flare. When a policewoman confronts them, the three men claim they belong to a neighboring village. The reality is that they are all migrants, traveling miles from home in search of work. Everyone is here for their own reason.

The longest of the five stories Teenage Tigada gets a bit leaden at times, but energetic Saqib Saleem as the burly, short-tempered Chandan keeps it simmering, with a little help from Ashish Verma as the spunky Dimple and Sam Mohan as the steadfast and consistent Ajeet Chetta.

Gond Ke Laddu, written and directed by Shikha Makan, begins in Agra at the home of a widow, Sushila (Neena Kulkarni), who views online transactions with suspicion but decides to take the risk and send her daughter a box of homemade sweets to celebrate the birth of a child. The delivery boy Rohan (Lakshvir Saran) has an accident on what is anything but a good day.

A far worse fate awaits him at work than physical wounds. His feisty wife Geeta (Darshana Rajendran) hatches a daring plan to save the man from a jam. Gond Ke Laddu celebrates hope and humanity in the face of adversity – which is truly the only path left to humanity when the whole world is in the midst of a crisis that won’t go away.

That’s exactly what the watchable is Continuous: Naya Safar conveys: the central need to hold on to hope when one easily sinks into despair.

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