Netflix release Pagglait is a drama with a hint of comedy by Umesh Bist that looks at the aftermath of death. Set in an Indian town, it sees a newly widowed woman navigate through the chaos of family duties, grief, rituals, hierarchies, gossip and the financial preoccupations that follow her husband’s departure and become so intense that they engulf his memory.
Sandhya (Sanya Malhotra) was only married for five months when her husband Astik passes away. They had been living with his family and she was still adjusting to her new life when tragedy struck. Her in-laws’ home quickly fills up with relatives who have come to stay for the whole 13 days of official mourning. During this time, various ceremonies are performed to assist the soul of the departed leave this dimension and ascend into another realm.
Sandhya does not seem affected by her husband’s death. She is forced to stay in her room and eat the unpalatable meals prepared for her but she craves junk food and is itching to go out. As she reads through messages of condolence and looks through Astik’s belongings, she begins to realise that she only knew him superficially. She makes one particular discovery about him that forces her to reassess her marriage and think about herself in a new light. During the 13 days of mourning, she undergoes an awakening that changes the direction of her life.
The story is rich in its exploration of key societal issues. It gives an overview of the many ways in which tradition and modernity continually collide leaving a trail of dissatisfaction behind. The grieving household becomes fertile ground for the exposure of hypocrisies and superstitions, acting as a microcosm for a society grappling with the incongruence between established mores and personal freedoms.
Subtlety is the film’s strength, as the plot could easily have been overdone given the tragic event at its centre and the additional disruptive elements that transpire thereafter. The downside of this understated tone is that the conflict is not delineated strongly and thus the dramatic components simmer quietly without reaching an emotional apex.
Although it never quite takes off, Pagglait is a well executed social commentary that offers much food for thought. It stands out for its fresh approach, engaging cinematography and the way it elegantly challenges the status quo.
Pagglait is released on Netflix on 26th March 2021.
Watch the trailer for Pagglait here: