The Woman Who Is Not Shy of Freedom

Pagglait is a refreshing and pathbreaking story of a widow who discovers the true madness and beauty and hunger in life after the death of her husband.

The word ‘pagglait’ isn’t a part of our every day speech. In fact, it wasn’t till I watched the trailer of this Sanya Malhotra starrer that I actually realized that a word like this exists in Hindi language. According to the global guru Google, pagglait originates from the Hindi word ‘Pagal’ which means mad, insane, maniac or even raving (the meaning depends on the context and the situation) and is a degree higher than its root word. So, Pagglait is someone who is more than mad!

The movie is about a recently married and subsequently widowed woman Sandhya played by Sanya Malhotra who is finding it difficult to mourn for a husband she hardly knew, let alone love. As Sandhya confides in her friend Nazia when the latter asks her the reason why she is behaving as if nothing has happened. Sandhya replies that in her childhood, she had a cat called Katrina who died in an accident. At the time, she was devastated and did not eat anything for three days. But, at present she does not feel anything except hunger and a desire to run away from everything.
The movie is quite a take on the mindless customs and the hypocrisy that surrounds death in our society. Despite their unwillingness, the family members have to eat bland food for all the thirteen days of the wake (tehrvi) , cigarette and alcohol is forbidden, yet we see the younger brother-in-law of Sandhya (who is more worried about his hair being shaved off than the death of his brother) and even uncle-in-law smoke and drink on the sly. Sandhya craves for Pepsi and golgappas too. She goes out with her friend on the pretext of seeing a doctor for stomach ache and eats her fill.
A girl of today’s times, Sandhya comes across as a person who is quite open about her feelings. She doesn’t believe in acting. She has a grudge against her mother who believes that girls should stay in their husband’s house forever and resents her for not understanding her mind. When her father-in-law proposes that Sandhya can visit her parents for a while, Sandhya’s mother vehemently refuses saying that Sandhya’s real place is with her in-laws. Infact she is so distraught by the lack of Sandhya’s sadness for her husband’s death that she actually thinks that someone has cast an evil eye on her daughter and discretely tries to get rid of it!
When I watched Pagglait, I found it quite close to my own story. I was widowed a decade ago. Like Sandhya, I had never had a close relationship with my husband. We, Indian women are often brought up believing that our ultimate destiny is being married to the right man. But what if that man turns out to be a different person? What if that person doesn’t really care about you? What if that person has nothing but criticism or silence for you? What if that person dies? When my husband died, though I was saddened by the loss of a life but I really didn’t know how to react to the death of a person who was never really a husband to begin with.
In the first half of the movie, we find Sandhya struggling to come to terms with the fact that her husband was in love with someone else. She discovers a photograph of a girl in his closet that she opens for the first time in her life to find some papers that her mother-in-law had asked for. She meets the girl in the photograph who was a colleague of her husband. She befriends her and tries to dress up and be like her. She keeps asking her about their relationship but the girl insists that her husband never cheated on her after marriage. Slowly and steadily Sandhya comes to terms with her husband’s lack of love and forgives him for his infidelity. It is then that she really starts weeping as she releases all her grudges against him. She again tells her friend Nazia that now that she has forgiven her dead husband, she feels like crying and is feeling very hungry. I was reminded of another movie ‘lunchbox’ where the protagonist’s mother starts feeling hungry after the death of her long-ailing husband. She freely expresses her desire to have ‘parathas’ while her daughter tries to shush her amidst the staring relatives. Does this hunger have anything to do with food or it is the hunger for life which has been buried under the unrealistic expectations? When I experienced this ‘hunger’ to eat something during the time of mourning, I supressed it because at that time, I felt it was not the right thing to do! Now, I feel differently.
Everyone in the family is worried about Sandhya and her future. However, what gives one hope is that no one is expecting her to follow any norms of widowhood except her own mother who makes it a point to pack a white saree in her suitcase.
The real game changer in this story is the point when it is discovered that Sandhya is the sole nominee for the 50 million rupees of her husband’s life insurance. Suddenly, her mother who wasn’t keen to take her home, wants her to come back so that she can help out in marrying off her two younger sisters. A boy from her in-law’s side professes his love for her and wants to marry her. She tests him by lying to him that she is pregnant. Within no time, his love disappears. He was only interested in her money because marrying her was an easier option than taking a loan for his new business. On the other hand, relatives tell Sandhya’s father-in-law, a self-respecting man to approach the insurance company to demand his share in the amount. However, his values don’t let him pursue this line of thought.
Sandhya rejects the proposal and decides to gift the entire money to her father-in-law who was dependent on his son and was struggling with the home loan after his son’s death. She leaves home to seek a job in a different city and tells her father-in-law not to worry because she will take care of him like his son did. She tells him that every one thinks about the girl but no one actually pauses to think what a girl really thinks.
She writes a similar letter to her own mother and tells her that she has taken her advice and will now be seeking a job and living a new life. Near the ending, we see her and her friend Nazia getting off an autorickshaw which is driven by a woman.
Money is indeed quite important in the life of a single woman. After my husband’s death, when I decided to come back to my parents for good, my relatives said that my parents weren’t doing the right thing and I would end up being a burden on them.
However, when I started earning my own money and supporting my daughter, the same relatives began praising me for my independence and said that I was like a son to my parents.

There are these subtle but noticeable changes in the society for single women (I refuse to use the word widows because that is not an identity). The white saree is on its way out, a woman can wear the clothes she wants. The ostracization of widows has lessened in many places. The archetype of the helpless widow depicted by leading ladies like Asha Pareekh (Kati Patang, etc) or Nirupa Roy is now passe. Now we have feisty single women like Rani (Kangna Ranaut in Queen) or Sandhya (Sanya Malhotra) who prefer living life on their own terms. Interestingly ‘Pagglait’ is produced by women like Guneet Monga and Ekta Kapoor, women who have redefined singlehood on their own terms!
On the whole, Pagglait is worth a watch especially for those women who have experienced this aspect of losing someone they loved or were forced to love or could never love.

This article was published in Rashtradoot’s Arbit section on 31 March 2021


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