Sanya Malhotra, Sayani Gupta, Ashutosh Rana, Sheeba Chadha, Natasha Rastogi, Raghubir Yadav, Rajesh Tailang, Meghna Malik, Shrutii Sharma, Aasif Khan, Sharib Hashmi
Written and directed by Umesh Bist, ‘Pagglait’, the new Netflix Original film, is a hilarious yet heartfelt tale of a young widow grappling with the untimely demise of her husband while finding her voice and identity amidst a quirky set of relatives.
Set in Lucknow, Sandhya’s (Sanya Malhotra) family members are running errands while making arrangements for the funeral of her husband Astik. Her in-laws (Ashutosh Rana and Sheeba Chadha) are trying to come to terms with the loss of their son while attending to visiting relatives who will be staying at their Shanti Kunj residence over 13 days of mourning. But Sandhya wants Pepsi and is lying on her bed, scrolling through her Facebook feed, dismissing the copy-pasted condolences offered to her. Her seeming indifference towards her husband’s death amuses everyone.
Not only does ‘Pagglait’ invalidate the presence of men in the lives of women, it seeks answers to whether anyone must be tasked with deciding anything for women et al. Simultaneously, the film also makes a strong case against the baffling mindsets that run deep within Indian households. The residence Shanti Kunj is anything but peaceful. The patriarch reprimands a younger member over smoking during the mourning period while pouring a drink for himself. The family prides itself over their modern values but will scoff at the presence of a Muslim in the midst of their ongoing rituals. It’s interesting how Bist brushes upon these hypocrisies without getting over-indulgent. Alike ‘Death At a Funeral’ and more recently, ‘Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi’, the writer/director deploys a funeral to propel Sandhya and her family towards closure and eventual purpose. In a telling scene between Sandhya and her father-in-law, we learn how moments of sorrow are commercialised. Shot by Rafey Mahmood, the camera captures the duality of Lucknow, a city hanging in between tradition and modernity. Mayur Sharma’s production design and Rohit Chaturvedi’s costume design offer a sense of familiarity. Empowered by Neelesh Misra’s verses, Arijit Singh makes a remarkable debut as the film’s composer with ‘Dil Udd Ja Re’, ‘Thode Kam Ajnabi’ and ‘Phire Faqeera’ striking notable impressions.
The biggest strength of the film undisputedly, are the acting talents assembled by Casting Bay. Leading them is Malhotra. Naïve but not meek, Malhotra imbues Sandhya with innocence and wonder that eventually lead to her awakening. During a crucial moment in the climax, Sanya establishes Sandhya’s sense of fulfilment while lending empathy in equal measure. It’s a moment that left me smiling yet in tears. Backing her are the superlative performances of Ashutosh Rana, Sheeba Chadha, Natasha Rastogi, Raghubir Yadav, Rajesh Tailang, Meghna Malik, Shrutii Sharma and Aasif Khan playing the motley bunch of relatives and friends. Sayani Gupta and Sharib Hashmi shine bright in their brief cameos.
Ultimately, ‘Pagglait’ reaffirms Maya Angelou’s words, ‘A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy, a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.’ Watching Sandhya take charge and trumping over her circumstances leave you with a sense of victory.