Ever felt bad for not feeling bad at someone’s funeral? Not because you hate them or because you’re a sadist but because the environment just doesn’t evoke the amount of sorrow and you’re simply questioning if you’re cold-hearted and insensitive.
Sanya Malhotra as Sandhya in Umesh Bisht’s “Pagglait” also goes through the same bewilderment in the movie as a young widow who feels no sorrow for the death of her newlywed husband, Astik. Her demeanour confounds her relatives. Amidst the post-funeral rituals, she has other things on her mind along with her craving for Pepsi and chips which those around her cannot fathom as to what is going on during the thirteenth day, otherwise known as a tehrvi. The conflict arises when Astik leaves fifty lakhs worth of life insurance for Sandhya and not his parents who are in crippling debt.
Pagglait is perhaps one of the few films to show a closer-to-life representation of death in a family and the chaos that follows. Umesh Pandit chooses the best ensemble cast consisting of Sanya Malhotra, Sayani Gupta, Sheeba Chaddha, Ashutosh Rana, Aasif Khan, Raghubir Yadav, Shruti Sharma along with many others to fit in this dysfunctional group. All of these plot devices that seem so clichéd are far from turning these characters cold and heartless. It brings to them a sense of humanity which adds to the storyline, which makes Pagglait stand out.
It asks uncomfortable questions with precise emotional gravitas, when the pandits come making deals and offering discounts for the death of his son to Shivendra (Ashutosh Rana) or when there’s a 20 percent discount on mattresses given for the funeral. It really paints death as just another occasion in the family and points out how society starts measuring costs before emotions in receipts and payments.
Sanya Malhotra pulls off the character of an indifferent widow on the journey of self-realization with an added pinch of all emotions; be it anger, sadness, or confusion in just the right amounts, keeping us on the edge with her unpredictable actions and performance. Her journey as opposed to mourning in a funeral goes backward into finding happiness by trying to be the kind of woman her husband would love. It’s interesting how she yearns to be worth her dead husband’s love by trying to learn about his interests and look like Sayani Gupta who plays the role of Akansha. But in actuality, she then realizes it’s not his love that she longs for but her own. More importantly, she begins to see herself – an educated woman in an arranged marriage, a dutiful daughter-in-law in a conservative household, and a girl with suppressed yearnings of her own – in a new light. In this sequence, we see many small love stories brewing around her that makes her and us both realize how empty marriages are or would be without love.
Ashutosh Rana and Sheeba Chaddha give unnerving performances which keep us in touch with the mourning and suffering of the parents struggling with both the loss and the aftermath of the death. Often tearing us up with their performances and minimal dialogues. Shruti Sharma as Nazia depicts strong imaging of prejudices and presumptions mirrored by the society in a Hindu family, be it towards Muslims or of Muslims. The strong performances of Raghubir Yadav, Chetan Sharma, and Aasif Khan are enjoyable and entertaining far beyond the length of their roles.
Sandhya as Pagglait successfully lends a smile to each of her family member’s faces, giving us a new wave of optimism with her quirky crazy packed in this manic movie package now streaming on Netflix.