‘Pagglait’ review: Life after death
In sending out a positive message the film deliberately limits its own cinematic possibilities
It would be unfair but inevitable to think of Umesh Bist’s Pagglait in the same breath as Seema Pahwa’s Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi that released earlier, at the turn of the year. Both are set in Lucknow and in their own way capture the city’s inherent magnificence despite the visible decay; and both are about large extended families gathering together in the aftermath of a death. In Tehrvi... it’s about the passing on of an elderly patriarch, in Pagglait of a youthful son. Both give a peep into the family dynamics—the idiosyncrasies of the individuals, their affection for each other as well as the grudges and resentments and the politicking.
However, before you begin to wonder if Pagglait is too much like Tehrvi, it moves on from that thread to something more—about the young widow, Sandhya (Sanya Malhotra), who, despite the unfathomable loss, finds it impossible to grieve. Is she pagglait? Has she gone bonkers? Is it PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)? Soon enough comes the theme of hidden secrets and betrayals; a tale of two women bound by a dead man that made me immediately turn to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours Blue. But it veers away from that as well to eventually become all about a girl creating fresh beginnings for herself despite some definitive endings. It’s about finally finding herself beyond the institution of marriage and becoming an individual than an adjunct in a relationship.
Most laudable and necessary no doubt, but in sending out a positive message the film also ended up limiting itself cinematically. The run up to the finale and the closure itself, though noble in intent, didn’t quite hit the sweet spot with me. Perhaps because the gentle didacticism and the heavy-handed treatment get the better of the complexities of the relationships and the implicit emotions; a situation in which no one is wrong while not being entirely right either. It is at these points that the film gets most compelling and moving—the admission of not being able to communicate with the husband, a pool of his blue shirts in which the wife’s own gift lies unworn. Were they not strangers in their marriage? The film holds a mirror to how families and the society tie people down in relationships which may hold little or no value for them and how they are then unable to take a call when something meaningful comes their way. I liked how the film doesn’t demonise the other woman, sees her as a source of strength and a trigger for transformation. In fact, women, just as they are purveyors of patriarchy, are also the ones to break away from them, with a few good men as their ally—how chips, Pepsi, golgappe and a Muslim friend can all be smuggled into a conservative set up, even when ritualism is at its peak. I would have liked the film to pause and dwell more on these facets alongside the focus on the correct and convenient closure.
Pagglait is a Sanya Malhotra show all the way with Sayani Gupta as the counterfoil. And both conduct themselves ably. The film also boasts of a stellar ensemble—Ashutosh Rana, Sheeba Chaddha, Raghubir Yadav, Rajesh Tailang, Sharib Hashmi, Jameel Khan—and they are consummate as ever but not memorable. Perhaps because none of them rises above being the “backdrop”.
Pagglait left me asking for more and spoke most subtly through Neelesh Misra’s lyrics and Arijit Singh’s compositions. Be it Phire Fakeera, Dil Ud Ja Re, Lamha or Thode Se Kam Ajnabi, I could count the heartbeats of the protagonist’s journey in the songs. After Mirzya, here’s another film that you can actually “see” in its soundtrack.