If a week is a long time in politics, 13 days prove to be life-altering for the recently widowed Sandhya. As her in-laws prepare to mark the ritual mourning period and host an army of relatives, Sandhya struggles to grieve for a man to whom she has been married for five months, learns a thing or two about him and dusts off her wings.

Paggalait, meaning crazy, proves to be an apt title for a feelgood movie that uses death as a trigger for self-discovery and liberation. Written and directed by Umesh Bist, the Netflix original film, like Sandhya, tries to muster up feelings of remorse and loss, but is more comfortable sliding into humour or ladling out the snark.

Is Sandhya (Sanya Malhotra) insensitive or in a state of shock? A family friend fond of using big words thinks she is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Unable to weep for a spouse she barely knew and didn’t love, and unmoved by her shattered in-laws (Ashutosh Rana and Sheeba Chadha) and brother-in-law (Chetan Sharma), Sandhya settles into merry widow mode.

Sandhya finds a point of focus for her ambivalent emotions when she begins to know her departed dearly beloved better. She spends the 13-day period wandering about, her friend Nazia (Shruti Sharma) in tow, unravelling her husband’s secret.

Meanwhile, her marital home buzzes with activity and intrigue. Suitors raise their hands to ensure that Sandhya will not remain a widow for long. There is chatter about how Sandhya’s father-in-law will support himself. Islamophobia rears its head in Nazia’s presence. A pair of cousins flirt with each other. At least one more romance blooms amidst the flowerpots and suitcases.

Sheeba Chadha and Ashutosh Rana in Pagglait (2021). Courtesy Balaji Telefilms/Sikhya Entertainment/Netflix.

Among the characters who display real feeling are Sandhya’s in-laws. Ashutosh Rana and Sheeba Chaddha are magnificent as parents dealing with their worst nightmare. Surrounded by shallowness and fakery, only their tears feel genuine.

The 114-minute movie is in a big rush to coincide Sandhya’s freedom with the conclusion of the last rites. Sandhya’s husband Astik remains as much of a mystery to viewers as he is to Sandhya. Sandhya too is inadequately and inconsistently shaded, gliding dry-eyed from one domestic crisis to the next.

This soap opera disguised as a progressive drama is simply too fond of its millennial heroine. Sanya Malhotra is not always able to pull off the balancing act between irreverence and independence. Dependable actors such as Raghubir Yadav, Rajesh Tailang and Jameel Khan pop in the background every now and then, but their antics are mere sideshows. Sayani Gupta has a fine cameo as an unwitting catalyst for Sandhya’s transformation.

Sandhya’s emotional arc has immense potential. Her journey from eye-rolling indifference to moist-eyed empathy is unconventional by any standards. Shoehorned into a family where she barely belongs, Sandhya chooses an inopportune moment to pull herself by her bootstraps. But she is underserviced by the movie’s shifting tonality between cynicism with poignancy.

Unlike Seema Pahwa’s Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi, which went over similar ground, Sandhya’s journey from self-absorption to rebellion is hard to believe or root for – one of the biggest missing elements in a movie about loss and absence.

Pagglait (2021).