By Pranjali Wakde
Not your ordinary grief-filled Funeral drama – Pagglait sheds new light on funeral politics, social order and feminism.
Imagine that the man of the family has died. It is a shocking thing to even comprehend, not only because it is someone’s death, but also because he was so young (” Ha, 27, 28 saal ka hi toh tha.”). And when this happens, it would be the widow who’d cry the most, feel the pain most intensely, wouldn’t it? But… what would happen if the widow is least bothered about the depressing atmosphere all around? What if she’s bored out of her mind, scrolling through FB and deciding whether someone’s comment on the post announcing her husband’s demise is copy-pasted or not?
Here, I feel like asking – “Kyun? Chauk gaye na?” That is almost everyone’s reaction when people start streaming Pagglait on Netflix, released on 26 March. Sandhya (Sanya Malhotra), the detached widow, is the only one in the haveli not mourning for Astik, her husband. It is understandable though, as they had been married for barely five months – and it was an arranged marriage anyway. The film covers the 13 days of vidhis, in the span of which Sandhya’s life goes under an eye-widening transformation. From being aloof – and demanding Pepsi and chips – her mind is thrown in chaos when she discovers Aakansha’s (Sayani Gupta) photo in Astik’s cupboard. She goes on to find the woman, and in turn, gets her sense of freedom and self-discovery in return.
Her emotional upheaval, however, is discarded as a weird way of grieving by the family, who are extremely busy enforcing the social order and maintaining the patriarchal values. It is a brave move on the director, Umesh Bist’s part, as funerals are a sensitive subject, sacred even. Because Indian funerals are always more than just a sorrowful gathering; it is where people gossip, scheme and even fights. That is exactly what is happening here, in Pagglait. The gathered relatives are, unsurprisingly, more concerned about every other thing which is not about the recent Swarga-wasi. Alok, Astik’s brother, doesn’t want to shave his head, the daughters of the Giri household are sizing up Aditya, their nephew and the men are unhappy about the presence of Nazia, Sandhya’s Muslim friend.
The employment of dark comedy to handle this subject – and many others – was a sound choice, because Pagglait slaps the hard truths of society while still making you smile gleefully. The characters fit their moulds perfectly, showing the layers upon layers they have donned to survive in this household. Malhotra is especially enchanting as Sandhya, who goes from an intelligent but oppressed girl to an empowered widow by the end. Equally refreshing is to watch other characters, including Raghubir Yadav as the judgmental Tayaji, along with Ashutosh Rana and Sheeba Chadha as grieving and burdened in-laws.
The problem lies in the second part of the film, which feels a bit rushed. Sandhya’s narrative feels a little haphazard, where one can’t see how she came to the fitting conclusion of her story. The ending was so poignant, so beautiful, but we catch ourselves thinking – how did Sandhya reach here? And even more unsettling is the soundtrack, which was Arijit Singh’s first venture as a composer. Some of the songs feel slightly repetitive, some are rather overwhelming, while all of them don’t really match the mood of the film. The only amazing thing about this soundtrack is how it is pleasantly crowded with female singers, shining through the cracks of the film with their lovely voices and soothing tones.
What is beautiful about Pagglait is how even though the ending is predictable and therefore, ineffective, it doesn’t mar the beauty of the rest of the film. It is a simple film, where a simple woman slowly tries to take the reins of her life in her hands, not caring whether she’d be deemed Pagglait or not, because “Jab ladki log ko akal aati hai na, toh unhe Pagglait hi kehte hai.”
Rating – 3/5