There is a pretty common joke in India – about how most students in the country decide on their careers after they finish getting their engineering degree. It’s funny because it is true for a lot of people. And I have been thinking how there should be another joke on us women from middle-class families in India – about how women realize what they want to do only after they get married… but it’s probably not funny, because a lot of them don’t really get to do what they want. Sure, they realize what they want, but that doesn’t mean they get to do it.
The 2021 Bollywood film ‘Paglait’ directed by Umesh Bist explores the emotions & aspirations of a young house-wife called Sandhya who is widowed within 5-months of her marriage due to the untimely demise of her young husband. The ancestral home of her in-laws is filled with relatives, all grieving the death. But Sandhya is unable to shed any tears, it’s as if nothing has happened. A relative gingerly attributes it to ‘PTSD’ (post-traumatic stress disorder).
To make things worse, she finds a photo of a pretty girl in her deceased husband’s closet, making her wonder if he had been cheating on her. Sandhya then takes it upon herself to find out more about the girl & the two start to meet. All of this is happening while an elaborate 13-day death ceremony is being observed for the husband. Things take a dramatic turn when an insurance agent informs the family that Sandhya is the sole beneficiary of Rs 50 lakh.
Director Umesh Bist wittily captures the internal politics of Indian families and how money can make strangers out of blood-brothers. From a pitiable widow who nobody really wants to take responsibility for… Sandhya becomes a cash-cow that’s target of petty schemes. Sanya Malhotra who plays the lead role is effortless and charming, almost reminiscent of Kangana Ranaut’s Rani from Queen – the film that won all our hearts in 2014. Although, it’s perhaps unfair to compare Sanya to anybody, because she holds her own in the film, even when pitted against veteran actors like Ashutosh Rana and Sheeba Chaddha.
Pagglait, which literally means a mad woman in Hindi, is ironically a very sane film about a young woman trying to find her voice and place in the world. A woman who at first had resigned to the whims of her family but now sees potential in doing more, who doesn’t want to be dependent on anybody.
The film celebrates female friendships, Sandhya’s best-friend Nazia is always by her side, standing by her through her mood-swings and whims. Sayani Gupta who makes a small cameo as the ‘other woman’, is a treat to watch even in her little scenes. A lot of viewers would be able to relate to the small family feuds and funeral rituals that are shown in the film.
The music in the film for most parts is great and has been done by Arijit Singh, the soft-melodious tracks, with lyrics often in sync with the plot unfolding on the screen add a lot of depth to the story-telling. Pagglait is funny, quirky, emotional and moving, with a believable climax. Sandhya is not without her flaws and even succumbs to a petty outburst at one point, but she realises her weaknesses and isn’t afraid to apologise and move on. And that’s what this film is about – about fixing your mistakes and moving on to brighter, better days.
The movie is available to stream on Netflix, so watch it whenever you get time.
Listen to me talk about 10 things that worked for this film on our podcast.
The episode is spoiler-free and covers more ground.