Pagglait movie cast: Sanya Malhotra, Shruti Sharma, Ashutosh Rana, Sheeba Chaddha, Raghubir Yadav, Shruti Sharma, Rajesh Tailang, Sayani Gupta, Jameel Khan, Shareeb Hashmi
Pagglait movie director: Umesh Bist
Pagglait movie star rating: 2.5 stars
‘Pagglait’, a slang stand-in for ‘paagal’ (crazy) minus the sting, is fronted by a young woman who has lost her husband. His large kunba (family), living in an old, sprawling ‘kothi’ in a North Indian town, is in the throes of experiencing the aftermath of sudden death. Conversations amongst extended family members swirl, mentioning the recentness of the marriage, and, here comes the nub, of how the ‘bahu’ Sandhya (Sanya Malhotra) is dealing with the shock. Or not.
Sandhya is not as devastated as we would expect a new wife, just about to embark upon a life of wedded bliss, to be. She craves a Pepsi, a packet of chips, spicy ‘gol-gappas’, as she scrolls through her social media accounts, collecting the number of ‘likes’. Why is she seemingly so detached? Neither her friend Naziya (Shruti Sharma), nor her parents can understand this strange behaviour, and soon the presence of a young widow who will not, or cannot mourn starts spreading unease through the house. It’s only when she spots a striking face amongst her late husband’s colleagues, that of the smart, well put-together Ananya (Sayani Gupta), that Sandhya gets an uncomfortable inkling of his past life. How well did she know him? Did she know him at all?
‘Pagglait’, reminds you strongly of Seema Pahwa’s ‘Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi’, with the kind of ensemble that has by now become all too familiar. Gossipy sisters-in-law and aunts (‘chachis’, ‘tais’, ‘bhabhis’) in the kitchen, the men in the ‘aangan’ (courtyard) deciding on the outdoorsy things: who all, from the family, for example, will go for the ‘asthi visarjan’ (the ashes ceremony)? The eldest permanently irascible relative, played by the wonderful Yadav, is the last word on matters which govern the outside world.
Families and the politics of grief is as old as the world, and the subject never gets old, as long as the treatment is original. ‘Pagglait’ works best, as these things do, when its strokes are subtle yet sharp. When a ‘Naziya’ walks into the house, there’s a distinct freeze, and that, in one go, tells us something deeply revelatory about an older generation in a Hindu ‘parivaar’, who will display an unease, to begin with, with the stranger who also happens to be a young woman, but will go to a ‘Dr Ali’ for all their ailments. A lovely touch, so reminiscent of so many UP towns. Also, that bit about ‘leaving family WhatsApp groups’, by Rajesh Tailang who always leaves a mark even in the tiniest roles, is gold. Jameel Khan, that terrific Everyman from ‘Gullak’, is nicely sketched as the guy who will quote Shakespeare much to his adoring wife’s patent, constant delight. But there aren’t enough of these. The film keeps veering towards exposition, telling us what we can see.
It’s only the young man’s parents who don’t need the crutches of dialogue to show that they are in pain: both Ashutosh Rana, a middle-aged belly bulging through a sweater, and Sheeba Chaddha, eyes welling up as she struggles for control, are excellent. Everyone else, including Sandhya, is handed out explanatory lines much too generously. It flattens the actors, and the film: we need more films that champion women, and here’s one which not only speaks for a young woman who ‘is not grieving enough’, and a widow who needs to be ‘taken care of’. Such a necessary subject. There’s no rulebook for grief, we all grieve in our own ways, and no one has the right to judge us. The intentions are perfect; if only the film hadn’t become too heavy handed.
Also, it’s puzzling that the name of the town is never mentioned, but the neighbouring ‘Kanpur’ keeps coming up. Obviously, it’s a UP town, which has famous ‘meat ki dukaans’ as well as ‘choley bhatoorey’ chaat-shops. Why this reticence? Have we gone right back to the time when we could not name names? Bollywood came to this after years of la-la-landism; it’s sad to see it being dispensed with, even as we wish this Sandhya, and all other Sandhyas, the best for a life that she will create for herself.