‘Pagglait’ is a much different film than the trailer suggests. It is more sarcastic than quirky, more anxious than carefree, more melancholy than funny. And whenever it leans into its truth, it becomes fascinating to watch.
Everybody around Sandhya (Sanya Malhotra) is worried about her, except for Sandhya herself. She just lost her husband Astik after five months of marriage, but she feels nothing. No grief, no sadness, nothing, except for hunger. Sandhya’s bizarre behaviour hasn’t gone unnoticed by the perplexed gang of extended family members. They thrive under the pretense of tradition, which is a great cover for their family politics. There is a step-by-step process of dealing with the loss of a loved one, methodically decided through societal norms and rituals, and each person has a part to play. Why isn’t Sandhya playing hers? But those who actually feel grief know it isn’t rational. It is messy, confusing and unique to each person. As Sandhya grapples with the emptiness she feels, she also ends up facing the hollowness of the decisions that have brought her here at this moment, the choices others have made for her. All her life, she has done what is expected of her, for… this?
While the main plot revolves around Sandhya alone, the subplot involves a whole ensemble of mournful family members who drop their act the second money becomes involved. The pious uncle is a bigot, the concerned mother has an agenda, the kind cousin is greedy; everyone is pretending for their own benefit. Suddenly, the gains outweigh the loss of their beloved Astik.
‘Pagglait’ delivers on its promise of an intriguing setup filled with interesting characters. The absurdity of the fanfare surrounding death – an event inherently about despair – is approached with a sarcasm that never feels mean-spirited. Aided greatly by clever editing, the film is witty about what it tells you vs. what you see, like in the golgappa scene which is juxtaposed with the immersion of Astik’s ashes. The first half of the film does everything right, but the story scatters in the second half, as it clumsily addresses the pain and anguish underneath the humour it is more comfortable with. Ashutosh Rana and Sheeba Chaddha rise to the occasion as Astik’s heartbroken parents, imparting soul into the story that Sandhya’s character understandably lacks. However, it is not enough as the loose ends of the subplot are tied haphazardly, doing an injustice to a cast of stalwart actors (including Raghubir Yadav, Natasha Rastogi, Rajesh Tailang, Meghna Malik and Jameel Khan) who leave you wanting more. There are far too many characters and not enough time.
The star of ‘Pagglait’ is Sanya Malhotra as Sandhya, who is so compelling on screen. Sandhya is uneasy, impassive, almost on the verge of hysteria but never portrayed as crazy. It is such a delicate balance that she manages effortlessly. Where she truly shines, though, are the quieter scenes of Sandhya being reacquainted with herself. The pace of Sandhya’s storyline is unsatisfying – the film takes its time to come to a conclusion – but the performance has an unmistakable charm.