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Will Pagglait Change The Portrayal Of Widows In Bollywood And Beyond?

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Will Sanya Malhotra starrer Pagglait change how widows are seen by Bollywood and society? Seeing the trailer of Pagglait I can’t wait for the movie to release on March 26. The trailer of the film promises a new take on how widows are portrayed in our society.

Gone are the days when widows were asked to adhere to certain rules that society has set for them. Okay maybe not fully, at least it has started somewhere – even if it’s on screen. Remember films like Kati Patang (1971), Prem Rog (1982), Water (2005) and Baabul (2006), or even the quiet and muted Jaya Bhaduri in Sholay (1975)? One can easily find common traits that display Bollywood’s perception of widowhood. How removed is it from real-life experiences of widowed women though?

In a society where patriarchy dominates, it is no surprise that movies portrayed widows as meek and pitiful. To our relief, things have changed over the years. There is a trail of woman-oriented films now and widows in Bollywood films are no longer as pitiable creatures and are being humanised now.

Society forever has taken decisions on women’s behalf, widowed women more so. There was a time when widows were not allowed to remarry, dress-up as per their wishes, had to shave off their tresses and were even not allowed attend ceremonies. In fact they were expected to burn themselves on their husband’s pyre as a mark of their devotion to their deceased partner. This inhuman practice was thankfully banned but how different is the day to day life for widowed women in Indian today?

Even today a widow receives disapproving glances if she dares to dress up in anything but muted colours, wears “loud” makeup, or is seen enjoying food or company of other people. Her grief is expected to be eternal. She is also treated as an omen, not allowed to participate in wedding ceremonies or any other rituals that are exclusive to married women in India.

It is as if she is to blame for her widowhood and must thus bear the punishment. What hurts most is that when a man becomes a widower, he is not asked to follow any such rules. They can live as they please, with no restrictions on what they wear, eat or do. Read more on that here.

Change in the narrative

Bollywood’s portrayal of widows has remained mostly static for decades now. They are almost always shown as emotionless robotic beings who are constantly blamed for every mishap that occurs in their lives and that of those around them. I believe these portrays are extremely divorced from reality, and do not do much for changing the stereotypical ways in which we view women.

One of the earliest films that I can recall that tried to change this stereotypical narrative was Nargis Dutt starrer Mother India (1957). Dutt portrayed the character of a widow who raises her kids amidst challenges singlehandedly. She kills her own son when he crosses the line and goes on the wrong path, portraying that a widowed mother is empowered enough to take drastic decisions. Chokher Bali (2003) a film by Rituporna Ghosh, based on Rabindranath Tagore’s story by the same name, is about a widow who engages in a sexual and romantic relationship with a man, and a married one nonetheless. She is unapologetic about her desires and laughs.

Then who can forget Nagesh Kuknoor’s Dor (2006) which has a widow who dances on her favourite tunes and liberates herself without the help of any man. Take for instance the 2010 Katrina Kaif starrer Rajneeti where she plays the role of a widow, whose husband, a political bigwig, dies due to a bomb blast. Kaif’s character goes on to contest elections and becomes the next chief minister of her state.

Importance of Pagglait

This is why a movie like Pagglait is important. Here Sanya Malhotra plays Sandhya, who is a young woman who has recently lost her husband. She is surrounded by a family that is eager to make decisions for her. The family is preparing for the last rites and other post-funeral ceremonies, while Sandhya is expected to grieve.

But life takes a twist for her and the family when a life insurance agent walks into the house and reveals that her husband has left behind Rs 50 lakh for his wife. She is forced to re-examine her priorities and make some hard decisions. Directed by Umesh Bist, Pagglait is the journey of a young widow as she learns how to free herself from her family and society, and find herself.

The trailer shows her telling her friend about her social media account ‘likes’, craving for a pani poori and a chilled cola instead of mourning. Dancing and singing to her own tunes she is now in search of her identity. During her journey, she realises that society judges her for wanting to live her life on her own terms, and so she says, “Jab ladki log ko akal aati hai na, toh sab unhe pagglait hi kehte hain.” Well, I think that’s the crux of this liberating film. Well woke women who stand up for their rights have always been labelled misbalanced or crazy. Sandhya knows that yet chooses to forge her own path.

Widows aren’t any less human than anyone else, it is high time we see widows celebrating life and taking their life decisions themselves, so yes this portrayal is just in time as a reminder.

Watch the trailer for Pagglait here: 

The views expressed are the author’s own.