In the new Netflix film Pagglait, the recently widowed Sandhya Giri (Sanya Malhotra), who can’t seem to grieve appropriately for her husband, Astik. Her parents, relatives and friends all shed copious tears, but Sandhya is unable to. Sanya deep dives into her character, how she built the backstory of a girl unable to mourn, and how this film has changed her forever.
Sneha Menon Desai: Sanya, the last time we met, you told me that you wished for the one takeaway from the pandemic to be that the film industry is kinder to itself and takes more breaks for mental health. Is that a promise you have kept to yourself?
Sanya Malhotra: Yes. I’ve told my team that I don’t work after 8.30 pm. If I’m not shooting, then I won’t respond to texts after 8.30 pm. Saturdays and Sundays are my weekend time. Now since I’m promoting this film, I can’t follow that schedule but otherwise I do.
SMD: How did you find the pulse of your character?
SM: We developed a very strong backstory because that’s what I needed – a very strong memory bank for Sandhya because I didn’t have experiences to fall back on. I’m not married, I don’t have a boyfriend. So I don’t have any experiences I could compare Sandhya’s to. Even if you meet someone for two days and you later find out that they’ve passed away, you feel bad. Sandhya’s been married for five months and so it’s weird that she doesn’t feel bad (that her husband’s dead). She isn’t sad, she’s not crying or expressing grief in any way. So it was very important to crack her psychology and go into her backstory.
There’s a scene in which her mother comes to visit, and as Sandhya is unpacking her bag, she says: How many days are you planning to stay here for? They don’t have an English-style toilet, it’s an Indian one. How will you manage? I’ve been here for five months and I still find it hard. From that dialogue, you know that maybe she’s not comfortable in this house. She has a good relationship with Alok, Parchyun, amma, bauji and dadi, but maybe she was not happy in her marriage, to the extent that she never noticed that Astik’s favorite color was blue. Maybe Astik never paid her any attention. She confesses to (her husband’s mistress) Akanksha that her her husband was never straightforward with her, but still still had to project an image of a happy marriage because that’s what society teaches women – that they’re the ones who have to adjust after getting married. But even five months is too few to really get to know someone. Maybe this was a toxic relationship for her.
She’s also so nervous about opening his cupboard. Director Umesh Bist had a very good point – he wanted Sandhya to be extremely disorganized, while Astik’s side of the room is very well kept, his shoes are beautifully kept, his books and his cupboard are neat and clean.
SMD: While your clothes are just piled up.
SM: Everything is like randomly placed. When she goes to his corner, she’s so anxious. Maybe he never allowed her to touch his cupboard when he was alive. These small details were really important to develop because I wanted to have a clear vision of what she was going through.
SMD: I also love the bit in which she says the world thinks that she has gone mad. Have you had one of these experiences where people have thought you’re crazy for dreaming big?
SM: 2020 was an introspective year for me. I realized that I’ve learnt a lot from Sandhya. She is extremely mature emotionally. She appears to be a pagglait, but a pagglait in her sense of the word is extremely different. She’s someone who has understood that it’s extremely important to forgive people so you can move on in life. At one point in the film, she looks at the urn (in which her husband’s ashes are) and she says she won’t forgive him. But later on, she does because she knows it’s important to let go of anger, to let of the grudges she’s been holding to, to move on and start a new chapter in her life. That’s what I’ve learnt from her.
I’ve also also realized that it’s important to not be so harsh on oneself. I was extremely harsh on myself, extremely critical of what I used to do. I was a perfectionist, but with a negative connotation attached to it. I used to be like: What am I doing? I don’t like any of the work I’m doing, I don’t like any of the stuff I’m posting. I was critical of even small things like that. It sounds cliché, but thanks to Sandhya, I learnt that it’s important to let go of heavy emotions and start a new chapter, to embrace your craziness and just be yourself. Now I don’t need validation from anyone else, I validate myself.
SMD: It was also very refreshing to see how the ‘other woman’ was portrayed. You find yourself in a situation in which the person who was cheating on you is no more and then you’re face to face with this other woman – what did you want to achieve with that dynamic?
SM: We have to give credit to Umesh sir, because he wrote Sandhya and Akanksha so beautifully. They’re both so mature and they find a sisterhood in this situation that’s so precious. Akanksha comes into Sandhya’s life and sparks a jealousy, an anger. Sandhya can see how perfect how Akanksha is, how nice her nails are. She compares herself to Akanksha on the basis of their external features, but when she gets to know her and what she’s really going through and how beautiful Akanksha is as a person, she gets inspired. Akanksha motivates her to take a leap. Till then, Sandhya had let other people make decisions for her.
It’s a beautiful relationship and Sayani Gupta is so good as Akanksha. We held each other’s hand and were in it together. I’m so glad I got to work with her.