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Sanya Malhotra slips into the character of Sandhya like second skin, essaying it with beautiful precision, the love, the pain, the grief, the courage.
Ever since its trailer released on Netflix, I had been eagerly waiting for the Umesh Bist directed movie ‘Pagglait’ to start streaming. The trailer had promised an unusual storyline coupled with an interesting cocktail of humour and drama. So, I, for one, was curious to see if it could live up to the monumental expectations it had set.
Pagglait delivers everything it promises and more. Set against the backdrop of the 13-day mourning rituals following a family member’s demise, it exposes existing stereotypes of grief expression. It traces a young woman, Sandhya’s (Sanya Malhotra) journey, as she struggles (or rather doesn’t) to come to terms with her husband’s demise 5 months into her marriage.
Primitive societal constructs expect us to mourn a loved one’s death with endless tears or soul-crushing howls of pain, or even extended periods of utter silence. Because that is normal behavior, bench-marked as ‘natural’, or expected from a grief-stricken person. Anything other than that is considered aberrant, illustrated beautifully through Sandhya’s story.
Sandhya seems incapable of experiencing pain at her husband’s ill-timed death. In fact, when her friend, Nazia (Shruti Sharma), lands at her in-laws’ doorstep upon learning about it through a Facebook post, the first thing that Sandhya blurts out to her is – there were 235 comments on that post. She doesn’t stop at that, and nonchalantly goes on to instruct a family member to “get a Pepsi and chips.”
This behavior uncharacteristic of a seemingly grieving person, leaves Nazia and the host of other relatives completely bewildered.
Consequently, Sandhya meets with the same fate as any other person who exhibits ‘unnatural’ behavior (read: behavior that defies pre-determined societal norms). Her experiences are likened to someone suffering from PTSD. She is branded as ‘crazy’ or ‘pagglait’.
Through the exploration of Sandhya’s character, it is revealed that her inability to experience pain was a result of the nature of their marriage, one utterly bankrupt of communication or intimacy. Not only was her husband emotionally unavailable, but he was also in love with another woman, a secret she unwittingly finds out long after he is gone. A secret – preserved between the yellowed pages of his documents – in the form of a photograph.
It is the first time we see pain register in her eyes, followed by indignation and then anger; the first time we see her begin to process her husband’s death or the fact that her husband had a whole other life outside of her, one she wasn’t privy to.
She is almost immediately consumed by the intense longing to meet her husband’s lover, even if only to get to know him through his lover’s lens. And when she does finally meet Aakansha (Sayani Gupta), we see a rare, almost incomprehensible bond develop between the two.
Surprisingly, the story-line is infused with generous doses of humor, the melancholic nature of its subject matter notwithstanding. Another noteworthy aspect of the movie is how the character of Astik Giri, the husband of Sandhya, is relegated to a mere ‘name’. Even though his character is central to the story-line, not once is he seen throughout the movie.
The narrative plays in subtleties. There are no overt or loud moments portraying moments of truth. Instead it throws light on the regressive, hypocritical rituals plaguing our society in quiet, inconspicuous moments like the one where Astik’s brother who was asked to avoid alcohol and tobacco in the 13 days of mourning catches his own uncle drinking. Similarly, in another scene, when the house help gets tea for Nazia in a ‘separate’ cup, it seems almost innocuous and might have gone unnoticed, had Sandhya not called her out.
The narrative is propelled forward by compelling performances by the cast. Sheeba Chadda and Ashutosh Rana as the grieving parents of Astik are convincing and bring about a certain depth to the story-line. But, Sanya Malhotra’s Sandhya takes the cake away. She slips into the character of Sandhya like second skin, essaying it with beautiful precision.
There is this one line that Sandhya says that sums up the movie in its entirety – ‘Jab ladki log ko akkal aati hai na, toh sab unko pagglait hi kehte hai’ which roughly translates to ‘when women become wise, the world calls them crazy.’
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HR by profession, but a writer by choice, I find creative respite through writing.
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