tv & movies

The widow who wouldn’t cry: Sanya Malhotra on ‘Pagglait’

Sanya Malhotra’s characters are never predictable and in her latest film, ‘Pagglait’, the challenge has been to get audiences to empathise with a woman who cannot grieve

There is a constant in Sanya Malhotra’s performances — her impish smile. But the actor has not repeated a type of character in her six films. She has played, among other roles, a young wrestler in Dangal, a quarrelling sister in Pataakha, a shy student in Photograph, and an uncertain girlfriend in her 2020 release, Ludo. Malhotra, it is fair to say, has escaped typecasting. “People used to ask me what kind of roles I would do and I would tell them ‘I want to try everything’. Because I’m not a trained actor, I’ll only learn if I do all sorts of roles.” The timing of her entry into Hindi cinema was important, too. Subjects and characters that were offbeat are now mainstream, allowing talented actors like Malhotra to flourish.

Pepsi, please?

In her upcoming film, Pagglait (a derivative of crazy) — written and directed by Umesh Bist, known for films like O Teri and Hero — she plays a young widow, Sandhya Giri. Her husband has died and she is unable to grieve, so much so that when her mother wails, Sandhya asks her to stop crying. Later, when the mother offers her tea, she asks for Pepsi. When a friend, in the middle of a consolatory hug, tells Sandhya she found out about her husband’s death through her sister’s Facebook post, the latter drily observes, “Yes, the post has 235 comments.”

A still from the film  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Those close to Sandhya feel she is abnormally normal. Her friend asks, “Why are you behaving like nothing has happened?” Her response: “You know, when I was a kid, we had a cat. She got run over by a car. I cried a lot. And I didn’t eat for three days.” She knows she can feel grief; she just can’t feel it now.

Riding solo

While Malhotra, 29, has starred in other OTT projects such as Ludo and Shakuntala Devi, Pagglait is the first film in which she plays the sole protagonist. It has a considerably big cast — including Sayani Gupta, Shruti Sharma, and Ashutosh Rana — but the film revolves around Sandhya. It was a tightrope walk, having to convince the audience she is void of sorrow as well as make them empathise with her. “I doubted if I could do it,” says the actor, adding, “But Umesh and Guneet [Monga, the producer] were convinced that I could pull it off. And I had so many wonderful actors around me. That gave me confidence.”

A still from the film Special Arrangement  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Being Sandhya

Bist’s writing helped. While Malhotra says “the script was wonderful”, she did not strictly stick to it. As the shooting progressed, she gradually accessed the character’s mind. “There was a scene where Sandhya was supposed to cry. But this was the 30th day of the shoot and by then I was familiar with her. So, I felt she wouldn’t cry in that situation. I am grateful that Umesh allowed me to intervene and was open to what Sandhya wanted to tell him.”

Malhotra, in a way, became a conduit for Sandhya and Bist. The director agrees. “Sanya didn’t perform; she lived the character,” he says, lauding the actor’s subtle performance. “The artist is not attempting comedy ‘in the tea-Pepsi’ scene. She is just trying to catch the right note. [The performance] is like playing an instrument. The tune of a sitar changes, for instance, depending on the emphasis you apply on a note. It’s the same with acting. The pauses, breaths… if you can concentrate on and control these things, the emotions can significantly change.”

Pagglait releases on Netflix on March 26

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