Cast: Sanya Malhotra, Sayani Gupta, Shruti Sharma, Raghubir Yadav, Ashutosh Rana, Natasha Rastogi, Sheeba Chaddha
Direction: Umesh Bist
Rating: Three stars
The story of ‘Pagglait’ is just like its protagonist Sandhya. Both refuse to behave the way they are expected to.
You would think the story of a just-married young woman who is widowed right at the onset would be sombre drama; all the more because the societal subjugation she tackles is the main focus of the plot.
The film, however, refuses to mourn, just like Sandhya. Taking a refreshing but realistic approach to the aftermath of loss, writer-director Umesh Bist unfolds his satire with gentle hands. Like its heroine, the film’s mood stays irreverent, unaffected by the grim reality that backdrops the narrative.
Sanya Malhotra plays the small-town widow Sandhya with incredible authenticity. She is alone in her room, amidst a house full of grieving relatives. As the camera pans on her for the first time, she is seen sifting through social media, reading out condolence messages sent to her following the death of her husband, Astik. She lets out a yawn over the ‘copy paste’ messages and moments later, when asked if she wants a cup of tea, nonchalantly replies she would prefer a cola.
Sandhya’s attitude leaves some family members puzzled and others miffed. A relative, Ghanashyam (Jameel Khan), who habitually quotes Shakespeare, helpfully suggests she is suffering from PTSD. Her mother (Natasha Rastogi) tries to ward off the evil eye on the sly, even as Sandhya chooses to sneak off with her best friend Nazia (Shruti Sharma) for a quick feast of Indian roadside snacks while Astik’s younger brother performs the grim task of completing yet another necessary ritual in the wake of his sibling’s death.
A family dealing with the loss of a loved one, who also happened to be the sole bread earner of the house, is lovingly approached by Bist. As each layer of the story is gradually peeled back, so are the emotions of each member who finds themselves stuck in different stages of the grief cycle.
Bist’s storytelling delves into what drives Sandhya’s psychological indifference at Astik’s death without turning the film into bleak fare. Yet, ‘Pagglait’ isn’t flippant in its approach either. The film makes its comment about repression of women without being too loud about it, especially in the climax. In fact, the end could seem predictable when it comes, but it works for this story.
The flaw in the narrative perhaps lies in its necessity to justify Sandhya’s actions. Simply never being close to Astik during his lifetime could have been enough for Sandhya to take the step she does after his death. There was no need to bring in sub-plots to drive the point home.
It is evident that a mourning household in a small town milieu will see the extended family converge, which in turn would mean a surfeit of characters and their respective biases. The problem is that not all characters or sub-plots are properly fleshed out. As a result, actors of the calibre of Rajesh Tailang, Ananya Khare and Jameel Khan remain under utilised.
Still, these actors manage to leave an impact despite the limited footage they get. In fact, the film is enriched by fine performances from the entire cast, top lined by Malhotra in one of her best acts yet.
‘Pagglait’ is a sincere attempt, at entertaining as well as at imparting its comment on women’s empowerment without getting too fussy about it. — With inputs from Bindu Rai, Entertainment Editor
Don’t miss it!
‘Pagglait’ is streaming now on Netflix.