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Sanya Malhotra in <i>Pagglait.</i>
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Review: Netflix’s ‘Pagglait’ Is a Moody, Heartwarming Winner

Review of Sanya Malhotra-starrer ‘Pagglait’ that’s streaming on Netflix.

Updated
Movie Reviews
5 min read

Pagglait

Review: Netflix’s ‘Pagglait’ Is a Moody, Heartwarming Winner

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Pagglait is strange and lovely, a breath of fresh air to make you raise an eyebrow, get your heart racing and your lips smiling. Written and directed by Umesh Bist and starring Sanya Malhotra in the titular role, the film has a softness and dreaminess to it, as if it were shot in the clouds in the middle of a heavy monsoon. One feels transported to the hills and you can almost smell the wet mud and pine. The film has an unfamiliar and rare chemistry that seems to work, what with an eeriness accompanied with comedy, like that of films like Knives Out and also has the magic realism and heart of films like Paheli and the transformation of mundane rituals into sinister happenings is reminiscent of the Italian film, Bad Tales.

Pagglait is laced heavily with religion, with imagery of diyas and aartis against the sounds of the azaan from a nearby mosque, folklore, mythicism and what almost seems like small town magic.

The atmosphere seems to be entrenched with deep rooted folk Indian traditions and it’s got lots going on to make it ripe and voluptuous and although all with good intention, the Hindu - Muslim aspect of the film seems forced and overdone in parts, the theme getting overbearing and repetitive in bits, taking away from the charm of the universe and story both.

Pagglait revolves around a young woman who after only a few months of having been in arranged marriage, is suddenly widowed. And upon the death of her husband, a mountain of drama, familial expectations, disappointments, greedy family members and more begins to unfold.

The film then examines this woman navigating society’s expectations and is a fresh take on female emancipation and comes as a relief to see on screen female freedom taking a different form than the regular “strong woman” tropes we see too often - binge drinking, casual sex and smoking endless cigarettes. Feminism, it turns out, is a lot more than that (shocking, isn’t it?).
A still from <i>Pagglait.</i>
A still from Pagglait.
(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

The subtle hints of female oppression and the demand from society for them to be wispy, weepy and tragic heroines is starkly obvious and the fight back, is subtle and strong. To be a daughter, wife, mother, sister or even prostitute and police woman comes with a prescribed set of rules and regulations, designed by yours truly, our very own civil society and while we see many of these restrictive norms designed for women challenged on screen often, the role of a widow, and a young window no less, is rarely ever challenged or acknowledged and for that, three cheers for Pagglait.

The subtle compromises we make with ourselves and the world around us, when we say demise instead of death, or choose to drink domesticated tea versus wild and free fizzy drinks, we try to soften out our edges, and this struggle is shown with honesty and empathy. Big city dreams and small town stifling rub shoulders often in our country and in this film.

The narrative style and script are unconventional and something to learn from for Hindi cinema. The script and direction chooses juxtapositions, contrast and quietness to drive the point home, sometimes almost reminiscent of a Wes Anderson or an Amit Datta film. Scenes like the ones where an evening out, eating pani puri is intercutting with a warm and generous pandit narrating a story, while a family sits on a boat in the middle of the Ganga with their sons asthiyan is unnerving yet, subliminal and artistic. It’s a film where nothing “big” really happens and instead we are delighted by a long string of “small” incidents, turn of events and changes. A lot of the films drama is internal and the conflicts are humane. The film is a labour of love and it shows.

Poster of <i>Pagglait.</i>
Poster of Pagglait.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)
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The story also caters to satiating macabre curiosity that a lot of us harbour. When we know a partner cheats on us, we want to know what the other person looks like, sounds like, acts like and maybe even what they taste and smell like. When we see an accident on the road, which maybe bloody and unpleasant, we are desperate to tear our eyes away but we can’t help it. We want to know more. It is this need, to want to know something that is perhaps, not “good” for us, that this film understands.

The casting of Pagglait is wonderful and has a plethora of talented and wonderful actors, ranging from Sanya Malhotra, Sayani Gupta, Ashutosh Rana, Raghubir Yadav, Sheeba Chaddha, Sharib Hashmi and Ananya Khare amongst many many more.

All actors are spot on and never falter at all. The unanimously stellar performances of the film really add an extra kick of strength to it.
Sayani Gupta in <i>Pagglait.</i>
Sayani Gupta in Pagglait.
(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

There are faults, like with all other things in life, with this one, and they are glaringly obvious. The dynamic and relationship on screen between Sanya Malhotra and Sayani Gupta is set up to be a positive one, where women build each other up and give each other love, one where they don’t let a patriarchal society pit one against the other, and while the intention is good, the execution is poor. That whole sub plot of the film seems inauthentic, overdone and fake. Sayani Gupta’s dialogues are off and seem misplaced. Some of the song sequences in the film are also a little lazy and seem like a convenient way to propel the relationships between characters forward, a concept thats been done to death in Hindi cinema and quite frankly, belongs in the 2000’s.

Pagglait is new, it’s fresh, it’s fun and while it may not be for everyone, it is a confident film about sensitive things and to all of those, it does justice.

Rating: 3 Quints out of 5.

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