might appear to be about one woman’s journey towards independence, after she realises how others have been taking decisions for her all her life. It is that, but there’s so much more.
Sanya Malhotra plays Sandhya, a young woman whose husband, Astik, died merely five months after their wedding. Not the wailing widow at all, she is surfing through Facebook, and yawning at the ‘RIP’ comments that keep coming in. To most, it would seem as if she has lost her senses, perhaps from the trauma of her husband’s death. However, the closer you get to her, in her room, by her bedside, you realise that she is simply indifferent. Their five months of marriage could never make a husband and wife of Sandhya and Astik.
Away from Sandhya’s room, in the lower quarters of the Shanti Kunj haveli, the family has come together for 13 days of mourning. While some have been lured in with the promise of gossip, some try their best to feign a responsibility towards the family, and some are there simply because they are duty-bound to be present. Only a precious few have true empathy in their hearts. But can we really judge them for it, considering how our heroine is thirsting for Pepsi and craving masala chips the day after her husband’s death.
Unlike what Shah Rukh Khan and Rajesh Khanna laying on their deathbeds in Kal Ho Naa Ho and Anand showed you, death doesn’t always evoke an all-consuming sadness in everyone. We love, are loved, and we also hurt. For most, we are nothing but a topic of discussion.
Pagglait is perhaps one of the few films to have shown a closer-to-life representation of death in a family. Women of the family are still aiming taunts at each other, men are still trying to cut a good deal, boys are looking for spots to light up a cigarette and girls are craving gol gappe. The indifference, far from turning these characters cold and heartless, brings to them a humanity that no crying Saif Ali Khan and Preity Zinta in a hospital room could have hoped for.
As fun as it is to watch tauji (Raghubir Yadav) screaming instructions at everyone, the chacha (Rajesh Tailang) pick up a fight the moment he arrives, the bua being catty and Parchun (Aasif Khan) bringing in the incessant supply of chips, Pagglait never trades the sombre for the silly. There is also the father (Ashutosh Rana) who is a feather’s beat away from collapsing to the ground with immense sadness in his heart. Not only has he lost his beloved son, but he is also scared for the future of his family. The mother (Sheeba Chaddha), though calculating at times, isn’t above doing whatever it takes to ensure their survival.
In between it all, is Sandhya. Sanya Malhotra has to travel from the valley of unfeeling calmness to anger, to disappointment and journey all the way to the land of grief and finally to an acceptance that her fate is in her own hands. If grief is a spectrum, Sanya has to touch on all parts of it. And there isn’t a moment when she doesn’t hit the right note. However, she isn’t the ‘pagglait’ that the title might have you believe. She is willing to understand the hand she has been dealt but also mature and confident enough to do things her way. The second part, and her final transition might get a little confusing but her Queen-like run is cathartic enough to make your forgive a lot more.
Despite all the perfect minor details — such as cycle seat adjusting itself to the movements of a man’s hips, the community toilet with a tin door, the ‘tauji’ calling boys ‘sasur’ and the haggling over mattress prices, the final effect of the film can still be marred by more melodrama than is necessary. The music, this time by Arijit Singh the composer, only takes away from the more emotional and crucial moments of Sandhya’s journey. The long shots of her, walking in a daze through a ‘barsaat’, wallowing in front of a mirror, drag the film out of real life and back into Bollywood territory. Thankfully, there is still no dying Shah Rukh crying at Preity’s wedding.
Pagglait checks many boxes with its brilliant performances and writing. Umesh, who has also written the film, has a made a big jump from Hero and O Teri and he is a Patparganji with a keen eye for North India and its people. Now let’s hope he isn’t rewarded with Dostana 3 for this.
Director: Umesh Bist
Cast: Sanya Malhotra, Ashutosh Rana, Sayani Gupta