Release Date: 26/3/2021
Cast: Sanya Malhotra, Ashutosh Rana, Raghubir Yadav, Sheeba Chaddha, Rajesh Tailang
Director: Umesh Bist
Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)
Grief is a strange emotion. The ones who haven’t endured its wrath will never know how it works and even the ones who have experienced it might not understand how a certain individual reacts to it. Just because someone is not crying or is feeling unusually hungry doesn’t mean that an individual is not grief-stricken. The absence of grief at a befitting juncture does one inhuman. How we process and express our grief when we lose someone close to us has a lot to do with the kind of relationship that we shared with that individual. The expression of individual grief and sorrow is standalone and has as little to do with what others think of it as it has to with how one wants to react to it in the first place.
Pagglait deals with this unique facet of grief and loss in one of the most heartfelt manners that I have seen in a long time. It is also a film about a lot of other identifiable things that mark a household stricken by the grief of the loss of an individual. While the film successfully accentuates some of the more subtle emotions and family drama that marks the loss and tragedy with an emotionally potent undercurrent, it brings enough realism and character to these sequences, characters, and incidents to make them feel real and affecting. In the end, we get a film that is not only about the loss of an individual and how his wife and family are processing the grief of his loss, but also about an entire socio-economic niche that has been created around the death for several days that marks the funeral rituals of the family.
The central plot point of the story is why Sandhya (Sanya Malhotra) is unable to grieve the loss of her departed husband Astik. The first time we see her in the film, she is checking her Facebook feed and is yawning at the same time in the most casual manner reminiscent of how we crawl out of our beds every morning. There isn’t a semblance of sadness in her mannerisms. We don’t see her in a particularly morose state that is expected of a wife who has just lost her husband. She is soon visited upon by her friend, Nazia (Shruti Sharma) who is equally shocked to realize that Sandhya is not all that different from how she used to be. Nazia feels that she must be too shocked at the loss to react in a befitting manner and tries to be her support for the next few days.
As time passes, Nazia realizes that Sandhya is not overtaken by grief and is unable to feel sad because of the kind of relationship that she shared with her husband, what she believes the future holds for her and how she is looking at what she thinks is her responsibilities that she now has to undertake and ensure through the rest of her life. What I found most impressive in this manner of approaching the fact that Sandhya was not sad was that the director, Umesh Bist, achieved this without demonizing the husband. Making the husband abusive, vile, sadistic, or unfaithful would have been the easiest troupe to justify Sandhya’s lack of grief but the husband is shown to be a dedicated and responsible individual who more than his parents ensured the financial independence of his wife.
Bist introduces a love interest for the husband that Sandhya unearths while going through his belongings. I, for a minute, thought that the story was headed into the predictable territory but even that angle is dealt with in a highly respectable manner and is in sync with what an honourable individual would do under similar circumstances. As Sandhya digs deeper into what kind of an individual her husband was, she starts realizing that even though she might not have known him all that well, he was a responsible and caring individual whose loss will mean something to her as she embarks on a new journey to redeem her life. By the time the film ends, Sandhya starts feeling the pinch of grief albeit she is still as hungry as she used to be and can’t make do with the bland and boiled food that the household is supposed to consume through the days of mourning.
Apart from concentrating on the character drama involving Sandhya’s character, the film dwells on a gamut of colourful and interesting characters that populate the household and are there for the funeral rituals. Astik’s father Shivendra (Ashutosh Rana) is devastated by the loss of his son. His loss is as much emotional as it is financial. He is shown balancing both the aspects of his loss and often failing at maintaining his composure. I believe this is Ashutosh Rana’s finest performance in years. I just loved how he emotes in scenes where we see that he is nearly in tears but somehow holds them back. These sequences are unbelievably powerful. All you need to do is watch the sequence where he haggles over the price and discount of mattresses with a tent provider. This sequence is extended further where we see him standing hopelessly amid warring pundits who are trying to make him hire them for the rituals.
Raghubir Yadav plays Pappu, Shivendra’s brother. He is the know-it-all senior of the household who lectures everyone on what is to be done and how one must conduct oneself but is seen enjoying a drink at the end of the day in seclusion on the terrace. Raghubir Yadav is a class apart always and he is right at home in a role like this. He puts his best foot forward and enthrals us with his performance. Sheeba Chaddha is fantastic as Astik’s mother and Sandhya’s mother-in-law. She is someone who is standing at the crossroads of doing what is right for her family and what she believes is right. One can sense a feeling of great tragedy in her mannerisms even though her composed exteriors tells otherwise. That is something that Sheeba wonderfully pulls off. Rajesh Tailang is equally good as Shivendra’s relative who, after he learns that Sandhya will be inheriting a fortune, tries to get his son married to her.
Pagglait shows us how the balance of emotions and societal norms shift within 13 days with money, greed, acceptance, and intelligence creeping into the mourning of a funeral of a man who was not old enough to die. Sandhya’s mother refuses to take her back home to grieve in the first few scenes of the film but the same woman tells her daughter to pack her bags and come with her when she learns that she will be inheriting 50,00,000/-.
We also see the honourable Shivendra (unwittingly) conspire against his own daughter-in-law to rob her of her fortune left behind by her husband. And to sum it all up, we witness Sandhya’s rise from the ashes of dread and tragedy like a phoenix reborn and spread her wings to take on the world for what it is. For all this and more Pagglait is an amusing and engrossing watch that remains subtle in its treatment of its themes but never pulls its punches. It will certainly resonate with the thinking audiences.