It is a strange coincidence that both the films I’ve chosen to watch during a phase when my family is mourning, have the tehrvi, or the ritualistic thirteen days of mourning, as their central theme. The two films are: Ramprasad ki Tehrvi and Pagglait. It is even more uncanny to note that protagonists of both films have the same names as my affected family. And whenever something is spoken on screen it makes me shift in my seat, as it is too real for comfort. But since there is a huge controversy brewing about whether the latter film is a plagiarized version of the former, let me do a comparison of the two films.
Ramprasad ki Tehrvi is actor and writer Seema Pahwa’s debut directorial venture, which premiered at the MAMI Film Festival in 2019 and was released in January 2021. Pagglait, on the other hand, is written and directed by Umesh Bisht, and was released in March 2021. Both films boast of a veritable heavyweight cast of accomplished actors. Ramprasad ki Tehrvi has Supriya Pathak, Naseeruddin Shah, Manoj Pahwa, Parambrata Chatterjee, Konkana Sen Sharma, Vinay Pathak, Brijendra Kala, Vikrant Massey, Vineet Kumar, Ninad Kamat, Deepika Amin and several others. Pagglait features equally talented actors such as Sanya Malhotra, Ashutosh Rana, Sheeba Chaddha, Raghubir Yadav, Sayani Gupta, Rajesh Tailang, Shruti Sharma, Meghna Malik, Ananya Khare, Aasif Khan and many more. Both films home in on the happenings in the extended family in the aftermath of a death, until the customary thirteen days of mourning end. Both stories are set in Lucknow, and as we hear, were shot in the same house. And that is where the similarities end.
Ramprasad, played by Naseeruddin Shah, is an aging musician, who dies while tuning his piano. He leaves behind a grieving wife (Supriya Pathak) and a brood of six children, one short of his sargam. As the children, their spouses, the grandchildren and the extended family arrive at his funeral, they bring along with them their emotional and mental baggage, which is cause for outbursts, melodrama, hangovers, bitchiness and gossip sessions. In Pagglait, the dead man, Astik Giri, had been married only five months ago. He leaves behind a young widow (Sanya Malhotra) who finds it impossible to pretend to grieve for him. A chance discovery makes her more impatient and ‘hungry’ for more. Here too the extended family arrives to decide what is the right thing to do in a crisis like this.
The two films successfully flesh out the mindsets and interests of the ménage, giving ample time to each peripheral character. It is the explosive cocktail of bitter baggage, suspicious intent, camouflaged conversations, and over the top reactions which make for interesting viewing. In both films, money changes people’s reactions. But in completely different ways. There is a lot brewing beneath ostensibly sombre settings which will seem eerily familiar. We have all encountered that overbearing mamaji or tauji who will throw their weight around, demanding that rituals be conducted their way. And then there is the young generation which finds these rituals completely meaningless, and is more interested in games of all kinds.
Where Pagglait scores over Ramprasad, is in its taut writing. There are some funny bits in Ramprasad ki Tehrvi too especially with spontaneous actors like Manoj Pahwa and Brijendra Kala. But for some reason, the writing tends to be preachy in parts, instead of leaving it to the audience to decipher the nuances themselves. Poor Supriya Pathak having to recreate and narrate the last moments for each mourner who arrives, would have been funny, had I not been doing it myself for the last two weeks. The writing in Pagglait is more contemporary and subtly throws up a mirror to our faces. It highlights the hypocrisy behind our patriarchy, the tedium of our rituals, and the complete turncoats we can be when we profess to be ‘open-minded’. The addition of a demented daadi who remembers just her daughter-in-law’s name was delightful. While Pagglait ends with some promise, Ramprasad ki Tehrvi leaves several loose ends and is more open-ended. I wished Pagglait had chosen a different title which conveyed the essence of the film better. As for its music, I am not a fan of electronic music and did not enjoy it at all. It didn’t allow me to listen to the lyrics either.
Overall, both films have different flavours. They are definitely inspired by the same starting point. But their treatment is entirely different. They are not plagiarized. Having watched one of the films will not affect how you view the other. Both films are relatable. Death often triggers memories which are not necessarily morbid. We all will leave behind a lifetime of memories, and they are hardly grey. How will we be remembered after we are gone?