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Pagglait takes a commonplace tragedy and, through the power of its storytelling, elevates it into anything but common.
Let’s start at the very beginning: the title. Pagglait. Craziness. Way out of the realm of ordinary, expected behaviours comes this little gem of a film about an ordinary, expected world.
The narrative wastes no time at all in depositing us, the viewers, into the heart of Shanti Kunj, a pre-Independence era home in a Lucknow by-lane, in today’s time. Like true Indian guests with few boundaries and a visit-anytime ethos, we walk right into a bereavement.
The Giri family has lost their young, recently wed son, and the extended clan gathers for the first thirteen days of ceremonies. The protagonist, her back turned to us as we get closer, is the widow. Also, a newly wed bride of five months’ vintage, our cultural conditioning expects grief, pain, and perhaps even a touch of drama. After all, we’re desi. No stiff upper lip and containment of raw emotion for us!
But wait. We witness no drama. No chest-beating, no quiet sobbing, no dignified pain. In fact, there appears to be a near-absence of grief, as the stunned-but-composed young girl at the centre of the narrative turns our expectations on their head. As the story unfolds, it gently leads us to first, the question, and then, the realization that women are protagonists in their own lives. Stereotypes—of patriarchal UP men, of feeble, indecisive women, of faith-based choices—are all gently set afloat down the Gomti, along with the ashes of the man we never see, but whose passing sets into motion the chain of events the movie captures.
With a stellar cast of actors, (special mention to Sanya Malhotra who plays the protagonist with sublime restraint and certainty, and Ashutosh Rana and Sheeba Chadda who break one’s heart as the grieving parents), Pagglait takes a commonplace tragedy and, through the power of its storytelling, elevates it into anything but common.
A vegetarian Muslim, a father who doesn’t shy away from being the more emotive parent, the widow hanging out with her dead spouse’s ex-girlfriend, and an uncle who throws in a mental health reference, this film cranks up unexpected quirkiness in spades, while firmly centering its protagonist and her burgeoning sense of agency.
Lest you begin to think it doesn’t carry more than feel-good fluff, the movie in an under two-hour run time packs in subtle but solid punches. Female rage, check. The impact of perceived infidelity, check. A woman grappling with the sudden knowledge that her marriage was a transaction, check. Startling clarity about romantic literacy thanks to a lack of relevant experience, big fat check.
While the characters seem all too familiar, they also surprise you at every corner, and invite you to explore their rich and not-so-predictable inner lives.
Depictions of interactions between two women associated with the same man have been fairly common in the media. Yet, this narrative spotlights an intriguing dynamic of curiosity, vicarious learning, and a hesitant fondness for the other. Sayani Gupta shines in her role as the ‘other woman’, portraying it with empathy and authenticity, carrying the audience along with her side of the story.
And that is where this film truly shines: in showcasing each character- quirks, motives, conditioning, failings and all — in their deepest humanity. It tells us without preaching that we are imperfect. And just like these familiars on screen, we have a right to be loved and take that chance at this beautifully imperfect existence.
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