Pagglait An Engaging Meditation On Mortality

Pagglait(Netflix)

Starring Sanya Malhotra, Ashutosh Rana,  Sheeba Chadha,Raghuvir Yadav.

Written  & Directed by Umesh Bist

Rating: *** ½ 

It’s not easy to laugh in  the face of death. But  what to do when the newly-widowed Sandhya(Sanya Malhotra, in a career-changing  performance)  asks  for an aerated  drink  when she should be grieving copiously and ostentatiously

 Sandhya  knows the ‘mourning’ shows  the day.Sandhya has a problem. And  a very  disturbing one  at  that. She  doesn’t feel a thing for her  dead husband. Instead  of  grieving over his loss, as the teeming household   of parents, uncles, aunties,  cousins,  nephew and  nieces seem  to be  doing, Sandhya sneaks  out of the house with her best friend Nazia(Shruti Sharma)  pretending she needs a doctor , to have gol gappas.

Pagglait is  a striking  provocative  often poignant  and  amusing  meditation about what  is expected  from  the bereaved and what  the bereaved  actually feel. We had a very  likeable  film on this theme Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi  a few  months  ago. Pagglait may outwardly look similar(after all, mourners  cannot be  any different  in  two  different  households,or can they?)  .But  the  core  of the  films,its heart and  its spirit are fiercely individualistic.This  is a  film on its trip, wilful and wonderful and  teeming with characters made  memorable by some  of   our  best  actors.

When  a  young girl  talks about her periods in  front of the family ,the  ever-dependable Raghuvir Yadav(a pastmaster at  playing grumpy old men) retorts, “Aur  dikhayo inko Padman.” 

 To  show the middle finger to tradition and convention specially  in  a  house  filled with mourners is not easy. Pagglait gets right the mood of  suspended regret and  unrepentant defiance  as Sandhya sets off on a journey,  first emotional then physical , to know herself. This  self-searching is done  with such scrambled ambiguity that  we can’t help feeling protective  about Sandhya.Throughout her 13-day journey , Old Lucknow remains a distant ally.A sleeping accomplice , if you will.Rafey Mahmood’s  camera doesn’t miss a single smirk or frown on those familial faces. At the  centre  of the bustling  jostling melee of  mindless mourners  is the question of Sandhya’s  aborted  marriage.

 Did Sandhya  not  ‘know’ her husband when he was alive because  of her intellectual  shallowness? Sandhya’s interaction with her  dead husband  Astik’s  girlfriend Akansha(Sayani  Gupta) suggests  Sandhya  never made an  effort to  get close to her husband.This  “getting to know” process(blue being her dead  husband’s favourite  colour, Sandhya  unaware  of this  vital fact, names blue  as HER favourite at  the end when she’s on her way to selfactualization) reminded me  of Rituparno Ghosh’s Shob Charitro Kalponik.

At times the  plot seem top-heavy. Too many life-changing events  follow in a rapid progression during just the 13 days  of  mourning.  Luckily  writer-director Umesh Bist  balances  out the  spiral of domestic revelations in  a calm cogent  flow. Even when the  characters overlap in their  desires and  disaffection  , they somehow seem to  never lose their identity. 

Some  of the  people  who populate this  drama of  liberating disenchantment may be hard to place in  the family hierarchy  . But we all know how it is in a house of mourning.  No one knows everybody. And  most mourners are not there for any other reason but to  gossip. As  genuine  mourners Ashutosh Rana and Sheeba  Chadha, playing the dead man’s parents , and Chetan Sharma as  his sibling, are absolutely  bang-on. The  rest of  the cast isn’t far behind. Just a little  lost in their  moral grounding.

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