A mother’s sacrifice is an oft-invoked sentiment in storytelling. We see it in our daily lives, too. Thanks to the skewed way our world works, a woman is often forced to sacrifice a lot when they choose to start a family. But what of her own dreams and aspirations? What of her individuality? This is the question director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari explores in her film Panga.
Starring Kangana Ranaut, Jassi Gill and Yagya Bhasin, Panga tells the story of Jaya Nigam, a happy mother, wife and railway employee living in Bhopal. Once a national kabaddi player — the India team’s captain, no less — Jaya finds herself missing the sport despite being content with her small life that revolves around her seven-year-old son. On the insistence of her son, she considers getting back into the game. What starts out as a joke soon becomes a mission to win on the international mat.
Panga is a film that will warm your heart right from the start. It is funny, endearing and very relatable. Tiwari’s directorial and writing skills shine in every scene. Jaya and her husband Prashant’s (Gill) life is well set up. The audience is quickly and effortlessly made a part of their little joys and sorrows, their easy sense of humour, their squabbles and tensions over their son Adi’s (Bhasin) health issues. The story swims along at just the right pace — not too hasty as to leave loopholes in the story and not too slow that it becomes boring.
The film also gives a sneak peek into the lives of sportspersons and athletes. The sacrifice and effort, on the part of both the players and their families, is immense and unrecognised by those outside the arena.
Jaya’s absence in her family’s life, as she focuses on her kabaddi training, takes a toll on their relationships with her and their lifestyle. However, in trying to bring this conflict into the storyline, Tiwari hesitates and makes it a little too convenient.
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There are issues that are easily resolved with loving and supporting characters. While that is a refreshingly healthy (and unusual for Bollywood) way of portraying conflict and resolution, it softens the punch the film could have achieved.
The protagonist, Jaya, is a well-fleshed out character. She is ambitious, smart and loving, and holds her own as a mother and a wife. While her work isn’t her dream job, she takes pride in it and is disappointed when she is shamed for it, even if it is by her own son.
Her transition from a docile homebody to a fierce sportswoman is also well shown. To support her, Tiwari and co-writer Nikhil Mehrotra, pose Prashant as the ever-supporting and sweet husband, who is madly in love with his wife. He does have reservations about her mission to re-enter the kabaddi arena, but prioritises his wife over them.
Here, again, Tiwari chooses not to push the conflict between Prashant and Jaya, and wraps it up neatly, making the pair’s relationship a little too idealistic.
Ranaut’s performance is where the film falters and is pulled down. She is no stranger to helming a lead role, and that too, a fierce one. But in Panga, her acting comes off as choppy and jarring and is especially off-key in emotional scenes. Gill gives a comfortable performance.
But it is the child actor, Bhasin, who takes the cake. With great dialogue delivery and timing, Bhasin steals the show even in the most minor scenes with his easy humour and natural delivery.
The film also sees Richa Chadda and Neena Gupta in supporting roles, doing what they do best.
Panga takes an admirable feminist stance and gives us a story we can all get behind, but loses out on making a significant mark by taking the softer way out. Watch it with your mother and cheer her on along with Jaya.
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