‘Pagglait’ review – analysing depths of emotion

Director: Umesh Bist

Cast: Sanya Malhotra, Ashutosh Rana, Sheeba Chaddha, Sayani Gupta

Where to watch: Netflix 

Grief, pain, and shock can affect every individual differently, and the following results can be nonlinear. Grief and its various stages are not only complex but often awkward for someone who’s expected to show specific emotions over a certain incident by society but cannot do so naturally. While some might deem it fit to cry one’s heart out upon the loss of a loved one, others might not be able to shed a tear for a while year until one fine day it suddenly breaks their heart and the waterworks flow uncontrollably.

Pagglait, is a beautifully portrayed film that meticulously yet with a delicate approach touches upon the various emotions of its characters in a rather ominous situation – the sudden death of a 28-year-old Astik Giri, the eldest son of the family. 

While his parents are in incessant mourning over this unexpected loss, his younger brother is frustrated with the rituals he is expected to follow till the 13th day of Astik’s death upon which it is believed that the soul of the dead passes onto heaven. (Although I do not believe that taking a mere dip in a holy river can wash away your sins, or immersing one’s ashes in a holy river makes their sins or bad deeds forgiven. But some beliefs have been magnified and glorified by certain societal sections in dark times to merely benefit themselves. However, this is a much deeper topic of discussion and shall be kept aside for later).

The least affected by his death appears to be his widow Sandhya who lazily browses social media to check the number of comments of condolences, or casually asks for a fizzy drink, or craves for street food while the rest of the family eats boiled food in mourning. 

However, soon the family discovers that their son had left a huge sum of life insurance amount for his lone nominee Sandhya; and their perception changes. The focus shifts from grief to a strange sense of betrayal by the son, fanned by the extended family. We notice changes in the behaviour of Sandhya’s mother as well who until then did not want to take her home fearing it might affect her two other daughters waiting to be married.

The elevated display of the greyness in all the characters in this scenario is noteworthy, which eventually open floodgates to the pseudo progressiveness of the middle class, the otherwise ‘open minded’ uncle’s religious fanaticism, and how one’s greed can overlook all situations and fly high shamelessly. Lastly, the film also shows how a sudden sense of achievement boosts one’s confidence or the fact that some can go to any length to earn some quick money. None of the above-mentioned events is focussed on too much but merely mentioned casually just the way we witness them happen daily. We might not think it is bothersome until we start to notice a pattern to such behaviour.

The film does not show or bring forth the complete character of Astik, but we only get a bleak idea of him through what we hear from others. This treatment quite smoothly reminded me of Hitchcock’s ‘Rebecca’, where the protagonist is never seen onscreen but we learn a great deal about her from what the other characters discuss.

‘Unbelievable’, a mini-series on Netflix is another relatable work that addresses the complexity of the human emotional display. How various survivors of rape recall their ordeal and get judged for the way they remember or not remember the incident that scarred their emotional system is the subject of the story. Pagglait focuses on Sandhya who has been married for a few months, but does not feel any grief upon losing her husband. 

A very heart-wrenching scene is worth mentioning here when a bunch of priests jump on an opportunity to ritualistically immerse Astik’s ashes and follows his father, brother and uncle like touts and they bombard them with questions and offers of discounts. When one such priests questions them, “Kiska asthi visarjan karna hai mother ka, father ka, kiska…?” To this, Astik’s grieving father, Shivendra says, “Humare bete ki asthiyan. Uspe discount dete ho tumlog?”

This film also addresses the elephant in the room or should I say our selectively-progressive society, in the process – loveless marriages. It points out how such endeavours do not make either party happy and only add on to the vicious cycle of following a mere routine for being unable to hold up against the will of one’s family (read know-it-all elders).

And most importantly the film tries to put forth the topic of the century – let women be, they can decide for themselves. A winning dialogue would be Sandhya explaining her plan to her grandmother-in-law saying, “Agar aap apne faisley khud nahin lenge na to dusre le lenge.” And, “Sabko laga hum pagla gaye hai. Jab ladki logon ko akkal ati hai na to sab usse pagglait hi kehtein hai.”

Director Umesh Bist’s story is simple, there’s no eventual truth to be discovered or any sudden moment of gloriousness. Sure, Pagglait has its share of quirky and comic moments, but overall it deals with a rather heavy topic. The team pulled it off successfully, and quite flawlessly. What makes it a praiseworthy watch is the performance of the actors and tactful direction. It is indeed incredible to watch the characters of Pagglait come out bold and alive making us compare them with people in our lives. 

Editing by Prerna Saigal deserves applause for the series of shots that woven in to give in a sense of continuity and comparability of various situations during the course of the film. The music might not stand out specifically to be chartbusters in the industry, but they blend perfectly with the story, and Arijit Singh’s composition, needless to say, touches the heart.

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