Pagglait Review (SPOILERS!): A Woman Empowers Herself By Becoming a Man?

I don’t love this movie. Be warned! I also don’t hate it. So this won’t be one of those fun reviews where I get mean. This will be more of a “huh, why didn’t it work for me?” boring review.

Whole plot:

We start the day after the funeral. A middle-class Brahmin family, the oldest son just died. His parents Ashutosh Rana and Sheebha Chaddhra are devastated. His widow Sanya Malhotra is in shock, not sure what to feel. Sanya’s friend Shruti Sharma arrives and is her only support and confidant, staying in her bedroom with her. Sanya finds a photo of Sayani Gupta with a love note on the back and learns she is a colleague of her dead husband and an old girlfriend. She and Shruti meet and befriend Sayani, Sanya ends up almost envying her and coming to know her husband through Sayani’s eyes. Ashutosh and Sheebha are sad but also worried because they have a mortgage and were counting on their son to help pay it off. Then it turns out their son had an insurance policy and Sanya was the beneficiary. Everyone in the family is suddenly being extra nice to her (including her own parents who previously did not want her to return home), and a cousin of the family proposes to her. She accepts because she wants love. But on the day of the funeral, she lies to the cousin that she is pregnant in order to see his reaction, he refuses to marry her showing he isn’t really in love with her. She leaves the insurance check behind for her in-laws since the money is rightfully theirs. And with her friend, she leaves for the train station to start a new life, to find a job, planning to send money back to her in-laws just as their son would have.

Download Pagglait (2021) Movie HD Official Poster 1 - BollywoodMDB

What a WEIRD ending!!!! Yes, widow leaving home and starting a new life, great. But her new life is becoming her husband? Earlier in the film she learns her dead husband’s favorite color was blue, and then says her favorite color is blue, a little subtle indication of where we are going. The whole giving her in-laws insurance money and then planning to find a job and send money home is part of a theme. This is what the movie is saying? “Widows, don’t remarry or give up! Instead, become your husband!!!!”

That ending is just part of confusing blind alleys and things that don’t pan out. There are a lot of great starts of ideas in this film, but then they end up going nowhere. The widow being expected to grieve but instead feeling nothing, that is an EXCELLENT theme. Let’s dig into that, let’s look at arranged marriages and social expectations, let’s talk about how just as she doesn’t naturally feel passionate grief for this man she barely knew, she also wouldn’t feel passionate passion for him when he was alive, the whole arranged marriage system is built on impossible expectations. Yes you can GROW to love someone, but a wedding ceremony does not magically make everything perfect right away.

Another theme introduced right after that, her mother urging her to remarry, and her yelling at her mother because instead of being given tools to take care of herself, her whole life was focused on training to marry well. And look, she marries well, and 5 months later here she is with nothing because her husband died on her. Another great social flaw to dig into! Marriage is supposed to be how you “take care of” your daughters, there forever Happy Ending. But it’s a very thin uncertain reed on which to hang their whole life. You gotta have a backup plan.

And then there’s the discovery of the previous girlfriend. This is practically a trope by now, arranged marriage wife finds out husband was in love before. There’s some hypocrisy in it in this case, let’s dig into the idea that she still feels betrayed even though there was no love between them, no promises, she cannot even feel enough to cry for him. Let’s dig into her realization that the other woman, who truly loved him, deserves to be respected in her grief and their relationship more than her shallow in-name-only connection.

Outside of Sanya’s world, there’s the way all the relatives descend for the funeral, many of them with ulterior motives. There’s the way the parents’ grief is mixed with fear for the future. There’s the confusing emotions of the younger son who’s grief is mixed with resentment that his parents clearly are once again putting his older brother first. Great themes! Let’s look at the rituals of grief versus the feelings of those who are grieving.

And then, none of these themes pan out! In a very frustrating way, because they had such promise. In the end, everything is restored to order really. The parents get a check and a promise of support from Sanya, so they can go back to enjoying their retirement and ignoring their younger son. None of the family issues are really resolved, everyone just leaves with things in the same place as they were when they arrived. And Sanya, instead of seeking love and passion, or confronting her parents and his parents who trapped her in this impossible place, or even maintaining a friendship with Sayani and fully acknowledging her greater grief, just turns into her husband. Her parents are no longer her parents (just as Tradition says) her in-laws are now her parents and she is responsible for them. She does not remarry she does not fall in love, she goes out into the world alone carrying with her the memory of her dead husband (just as tradition says). Strip away all the folderol around it, and this is EXACTLY WHAT WIDOWS ARE SUPPOSED TO DO!!!!!! She is removing herself and her toxic bad luck from her in-law family and going off where she won’t cause any messy confusing problems for Traditional Family Structure.

What if she brought Sayani to the house for the funeral and introduced her as her husband’s girlfriend and forced the family to acknowledge that they did wrong by both Sanya and her dead husband in not encouraging him to marry who he loved?

What if she gave the insurance money to the younger brother and left a note for her in-laws saying that their younger son is now responsible for them, listen to him and respect him?

What if after the opening scenes establishing her lack of true grief and the lack of thought her parents put into this marriage, she met and secretly fell in love with someone else during the mourning period, encouraged by realizing her husband had love outside of marriage too, and ran off with him at the end, leaving the insurance money behind for her in-laws with a note that they are her husband’s real family because a ceremony does not make love happen?

What if she went home with her parents and the insurance money and told her parents she was in charge of the household now and things were going to be different?

What if ANYONE was gay??? Dead husband, Sanya, ANYONE??? There are so many times the idea of “I can’t feel love, I can’t feel passion” is brought up, it is RIGHT THERE.

Or, what if the central triangle of wife-mistress-mother was fully explored? What if we learned Sheeba Chabbha knew he had a girlfriend and both Sanya and Sayani confront her with the mess she made of their lifes? And Sheeba responds by talking about how from her side she thought it would work because she had an arranged marriage? What if loyalties keep shifting and in the end it is the 3 women allied in Sanya’s decision to give Sayani half the insurance money and keep the other half for herself?

Obviously, any movie could go any direction in any version of the universe, life is full of possibilities. But with this movie, it’s not just that I want these other endings, it’s that the movie seems to be heading towards these other endings and then suddenly veers away and I don’t know why.

Or maybe I am missing something? Was there some big theme you got out of it that I just didn’t see? What was your take away?

6 thoughts on “Pagglait Review (SPOILERS!): A Woman Empowers Herself By Becoming a Man?

  1. This is a really interesting viewpoint–it had not really occurred to me that Sanya is doing the traditional thing by taking care of her in-laws. As you know I’m a lot more tolerant of open endings, but I still really liked the movie and thought it worked because: (1) the frame of the 10-day mourning period and (2) the fact that we are only dealing with the individual’s feelings about the deceased. We know absolutely nothing about him and we only know how the living people experienced him, not the “truth.” I think this is purposeful! For example, we never know if the husband is actually sleeping with Sayani–it’s suggested that he was but that’s not resolved. We know that the brother feels treated unfairly, but we don’t know if that’s actually true. For me, it was completely reasonable that these problems are resolved only within the characters, and that this would consist of them coming to terms and being able to accept their own conflicted emotions. (I was actively hoping Sanya wouldn’t fall in love within the ten days, because she has to accept the fact that her husband’s death is freeing for her, not jump into another relationship).

    Also really liked a comedy about a death that is not a black comedy and not at all sentimental.

    And do NOT watch Ram Prasad ki Tervi! You will hate it so much! Nothing is resolved!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I grew up in a small town in India and know many women who are exactly like Sanya’s character in this movie. For me, this movie felt very realistic and like it was a natural progression of how that character would behave. All the suggestions you made about the ending would have felt too “filmi” to me. You have to remember that we are only seeing the 10 day period right after the death. This does not mean that she is not going to find love or that she is going to live this same life forever. This is just the first step in her journey of getting out of all the walls that have been built around her. At the end of this movie, Sanya is at the stage where Kangana’s Queen character was at the moment she leaves for her “honeymoon”. She still has a lot to discover before she gets to the point you want her to be at. In fact, I have a cousin who went through something very similar. It took her probably about a year to get to the point where Sanya is at the end of this movie. Now, almost 15 years later, she is an executive chef at a high end restaurant in Mumbai. She is dating and enjoying being single.

    I can see why you have all the problems with this movie. However, you are coming at this without the context of just how much repression Sanya has to get out of before she reaches where you want her to be.

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    • This is probably partially my own taste in films. I prefer stories with a sort of clear progression. Even if it is a little artificial, like in Queen, the rush through the shock period to get to the transformation period, and that transformation happens a little too cleanly.

      On Mon, Jun 7, 2021 at 5:12 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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