| Comedy, Drama |
Director: Umesh Bist
Writers: Umesh Bist (dialogue), Umesh Bist (story)
Stars: Sanya Malhotra, Sayani Gupta, Sheeba Chaddha
Release date: 26 March 2021
Running time: 1h 54min
Widowed soon after marriage, a young woman grapples with an inability to grieve, quirky relatives and a startling discovery about her late husband.
Sandhya’s (Sanya Malhotra) husband of five months, Astik Giri, is dead and while the whole family is inconsolable, the young widow is glued to her social media accounts, and is craving soda and chips. No tears, no grief… This Netflix film is a satire on the conventional ways of dealing with grief, how a woman should ‘behave’ on her partner’s funeral and the subsequent wake, and why she needs to be told – at every step of the way – how to lead her own goddamn life.
That free-spirited Sandhya is a misfit in the outlandish, yet an orthodox household of the Giris is no secret – she has a Master’s Degree in English and likes to pass that knowledge down to her brother-in-law, they scream and holler over mounting debts, she keeps a tab – quite frantically – on the comments section of her social media post about her husband. Writer-director Umesh Bist insinuates in the beginning that maybe – just maybe! – Sandhya is grappling with Post Stress Traumatic Disorder (PTSD) but that illusion is shattered soon. “Bilkul rona nahin aah rahaan hain yaar aur bhuk bhi kaske lag rahin hai,” she confides in her frown-inducing friend, Nazia Zaidi (Shruti Sharma). ‘Pagglait’ is a subtle dig at the societal norms pertaining to the fate of a widow in some parts of India, our obsession with ‘achhuti’ when it comes to proximity with people ‘from that other religion’, and how mansplaining and patriarchal mindset are still so deep-seated in some of us.
This social drama also sniggers at the broken ties and loveless relationships we latch on to and maintain, because – of course – ‘log kya kahenge?’
First things first, it is refreshing to see Sanya Malhotra take the centre stage for once and while she renders an impactful performance as the non-conformist kooky, it is not devoid of flaws.
The script of ‘Pagglait’ is more than just a woman lacking human emotions on the most devastating day of her life; it is about self-discovery, the distinction between haves and have-nots, years of conditioning we are subjected to as far as dealing with certain sections of people are concerned and family dysfunctionality that some of us seem to be experts in brushing under the carpet. Among other things, that is. But a little too much has been explored in this flick and that is primarily the reason why they lack the depth they needed and deserved. For instance, in one moment, we see Nazia being served tea in a separate cup and, in another, she is eating dinner with the same family. When did Nazia bridge that gap, who’s to say? Also, an interesting subtext in the film was the sensitive issue of incest – which was only suggested here – and dropped without a proper farewell. It deserved another good 30 minutes just for that. ‘Pagglait’ tries to be relevant and impart crucial lessons at all times, through sarcasm and dry humour. Some of it works. Others? Not quite.
Back to performances, the usually chirpy Sanya Malhotra glides into the role of Sandhya with aplomb. While Sanya has impressed us with her performances in the past, this act is by far her most effortless and also the finest . But, the second part to her track needed more gravitas then she could bring to it. Sayani Gupta’s brief role shows her as this mysterious character who is constantly conflicted between opening up and being in her cocoon. Senior actors Ashutosh Rana and Sheeba Chaddha as Astik’s parents are natural in their depiction of an old pair struggling through the insurmountable pain of losing a son and their own situation-fuelled greed. Rajesh Tailang as chachu Giri and Chetan Sharma as baby-indifferent-brother Alok are the realists in this script; they highlight that side of a family dynamic that is not pretty but is an absolute truth. Shruti Sharma as Nazia Zaidi is so endearing that she seems to be a fitting heroine-ki-saheli in ‘Pagglait’.
‘Pagglait’ is one of those movies that takes its premise with utmost seriousness and touches upon many glaring issues our society is notorious for. And the beauty of it is that it is never overbearing or too dramatic to watch, even though the core subject is heavy-duty. Sandhya’s journey from being confined in a room – sitting pretty on her bed and flowering her plants – to actually going out there and taking on the world is sure to resonate with those who have been butchered and suppressed under tiger parenting. Her one pagglait-y at a time is truly commendable and a lesson for girls who give in without a fight, and never turn around to ask, “Why?”