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Pagglait Dismantles The Idea Of A Widow Being A Tragic Figure: Review

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Pagglait Review: Starring Sanya Malhotra, the film was already creating a buzz before it even released on Netflix yesterday, simply because the plot seemed like one that was trying to dismantle the stigma attached to widowhood.

Directed by Umesh Bist, who is also the scriptwriter for the film, Pagglait attempts to turn the stereotypical figure of “the widow” on its head. And it does a commendable job with it. Behind the production of the film are names like Shobha Kapoor, Ekta Kapoor, Guneet Monga and Achin Jain. The film also stars a stellar cast consisting of Sanya Malhotra, Sayani Gupta, Sheeba Chaddha, Aasif Khan, Ashutosh Rana, Shrutii Sharma, Raghubir Yadav, Rajesh Tailang, Meghna Malik, Natasha Rastogi, Jameel Khan and Ananya Khare. As for the musical score, it marks singer Arijit Singh’s debut as a film composer.

The plot

Sandhya (Sanya Malhotra) becomes a widow five months into her marriage when her husband Astik suddenly passes away. The unfortunate event brings the entire family together under one roof, as Astik’s father (Ashutosh Rana) and mother (Sheeba Chaddha) battle the toughest grief a parent can suffer alongside playing host to the flock of relatives.

Meanwhile, Sandhya is not your stereotypical widow – how can she be when the five months could never make a husband and wife of her and Astik. Moreover, soon after his demise, Sandhya learns that Astik was in love with another woman. So all she can do is scroll through the RIPs she has been receiving on her social media whilst half-heartedly performing all the familial rites, all the time craving for some chips and Pepsi.

But things get complicated since it is not just Sandhya’s lack of sorrow that confounds the family members, but also the fact that Astik has left ₹50 lakh worth of insurance money to her name and nothing for his parents, who are battling a debt. This creates tension in the family, as each tries to get hold of the tragic situation alongside the financial one. And amidst this, Sandhya begins to look for freedom.

A Delightful Watch

To present a widow as someone who is not a tragic figure is in itself an act that is worthy of praise. In a country, where widows are treated are still treated as a liability in many conservative households, who still lose the right to wear anything but white once their husbands pass away, are not allowed to eat non-vegetarian food and are even left out of many festivals, the move to portray a woman who breaks all those boundaries with her yearn to be more than just a widow can then be seen as a rebellious decision from the very start.

Director Umesh Bist treats death as a trigger for women’s liberation. The title Pagglait roughly translates to someone who is mad. Thedialogue “Jab ladki log ko akal aati hai na, toh sab unhe pagglait hi kehte hain!” (When a woman gets wise enough, she is labelled as ‘crazy’ by everyone) sums up the entire mood of the film. As an educated girl who was stuck in an arranged marriage and a modern woman being stifled in an orthodox family, Sandhya begins to see through the patriarchal double standard behind each and every move that her family members make under the pretence of helping her.

The men at her in-law’s house try to push their will on the widow while the women are constantly gossiping behind her back. Her only relief is when her friend Nazia visits and but even her friend is subjected to blatant Islamophobia at hands of Sandhya’s family.

Sanya Malhotra is a perfect fit for the role of Sandhya and brings her character to life with astounding grace. The supporting cast is wonderful, as is the cinematography. The dialogues hit at all the right places and the script steers the plot at a brisk pace. It is applaudable how Arijit Singh’s album is filled with female singers instead of male voices trying to sing about the doom that a woman is facing. It is again something hard to find in Hindi films as anybody who is a heavy consumer of Bollywood might tell you. Although the music does get a little overbearing at times and becomes too melodramatic to fit the matter-of-fact tone of the film.

Above all, the film tries to bring out the human aspect of Indian joint families, not by showing over-the-top crying and dramatic ways of mourning, but by actually showing the tensions and complications that unfold whenever there is a sudden death in a family. And in its verisimilitude, Pagglait has a slice-of-life quality to itself which should definitely be watched and cheered for all the efforts it makes to unravel the stereotypical figure of a widow in Indian society.

Picture Credits: YouTube ScreenGrab

Views expressed are the author’s own.