Is there an appropriate way to grieve? Is the grief of a person less if she craves for fizzy drinks and chips over less offensive tea and bland food? Is a person crazy if she doesn’t bawl her eyes out while in mourning? Pagglait explores the anatomy of a funeral that includes upper caste shindigs, patriarchal structures, family politics and everyday quirks typical of a small town with its focal point being the young widow Sandhya, played by Sanya Malhotra.
Sandhya Giri was married only for five months when her husband Astik passes away. The untimely death brings the entire brigade of uncles, aunties, cousins and friends for the funeral. Sandhya is unable to grieve the way a widow should. She wants to drink Pepsi, craves golgappas, keeps a track of how many likes ‘RIP Astik’ got on Facebook. The family jumps to the conclusion that she must have gone crazy, hence the title of the film Pagglait.
In an arranged marriage, five months is not enough to get to know a person, let alone fall in love. Sandhya admits that the death of her childhood pet made her shed copious amounts of tears, but she’s unable to cry for her husband, whom she barely knew. As her husband’s past begins to unravel, she gets angry at being deprived of the love and passion that as a wife she deserved. Sandhya is educated and is aware of her agency, but she hesitates in applying that agency; Sanya Malhotra portrays this duality very convincingly while immersing herself in the character.
But Pagglait is more than a single-story arc. The film’s strength lies in finding fragile moments amid mundane situations. A separate tea cup for Sandhya’s Muslim friend who’s made to step out for dinner since the patriarch of the family wants to keep the house “pure”. Heartbroken parents who are also worried about their financial burden now that their earning son is no more. Budding teen romance. Shift in family dynamics when a large sum of money comes into the picture. The men in the family deciding the fate of the widow without even once asking her what she wants. The film not-so-subtly captures the deep-rooted patriarchal practices, caste and communal biases that are endemic in an orthodox familial setup. But these characters co-exist in a space where they accept everything and question nothing. These fragmented stories come to life thanks to the stellar cast. Actors like Ashutosh Rana, Shruti Sharma, Sheeba Chaddha, Raghubir Yadav, Aasif Khan effortlessly portray characters which we have all come across in our families.
Female bonding and the unconditional support that such bonds offer is another strong story arc that Pagglait explores. Sandhya and her friend Nazia don’t need men to get through the tough times when they have each other. Sayani Gupta makes a small but strong presence.
Pagglait deals with heavy topics of grief and acceptance, sometimes director Umesh Bist’s attention to small things and exploring the rituals to its minutest detail weighs down on the pace of the film. Arijit Singh’s composition tries to pile on the already sombre mood of the film. While the film inches towards finish, you get an inkling as to the direction it’s taking because there are no surprises, but you do wish the director had hastened the process a bit. The film also beautifully captures Lucknow’s charming architectural landscape and soundscapes.
The premise of Pagglait is not big and it doesn’t promise a lot. But the overall experience is satisfying as it finely balances all the threads without feeling the compulsion of neatly tying them up. Afterall, when one life ends, another begins.
Director: Umesh Bist
Cast: Sanya Malhotra, Ashutosh Rana, Sayani Gupta, Shruti Sharma, Sheeba Chaddha, Raghubir Yadav