Panga (2020) Review!!

Synopsis – Panga is inspired from the life of a national level Kabbadi player from India. It follows her triumphs, struggle and overcoming of stereotypes. It shows how important the love and support of your family is for you to be successful.

My Take – To be honest, a Kangana Ranaut starring film has never made it to my watch-list. While I agree that she is a superb actress especially when given the right material, but her off camera behavior, often derogatory comments made against her previous filmmakers and other actors/actresses with whom she shares the industry, end up feeling quite irksome.

But, in a twist of fate, I couldn’t help myself when I read about her signing on to lead director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s third feature, who previously delighted us with back to back excellent films in the form of Nil Battey Sannata and Bareilly Ki Barfi. Plus with her husband Nitesh Tiwari (Dangal, Chhichhore) contributing to the screenplay and the dialogues, I was quite sure about this one being a hugely positive one, despite being a sports film that revolved around the matter of a mother’s sacrifice.

And as I had expected, director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari ends up making a solid impact once again in this superbly-crafted and narrated ode to a mother and a woman. What mainly distinguishes this one from other sports films is that instead of leading up to that big athletic moment of adrenaline rush it focuses on an almost non-confrontational resistance against all odds to fulfill one’s desire.

Kangana Ranaut too does what she does best, and displays the strength of motherhood and the sportswoman spirit earnestly.

The story follows Jaya Nigam (Kangana Ranaut), a 32 year old railway employee and the former captain of the Indian Kabbadi team. While she lives a decent life with Prashant Srivastava (Jassie Gill), her loving husband, and dots on Aditya (Yagya Bhasin), their seven-year-old son, Jaya continues to reminiscent about her glory days, and her decision to quite the sport, despite being on top form.

An itch she rubs on whenever she catches up with Meenu (Richa Chadha), her former team mate, who now runs a Kabaddi coaching camp. However, her dream is given a second life, when Aditya persuaded her to take the ingenious decision to make a comeback to the sport despite the challenges of age stereotypes and new generation complexities.

With both Prashant and her mother (Neena Gupta), ready to pick up the slack after her, Jaya soon begins training to qualify for a railway team, and eventually find her way to represent India once again.

This is a film that will warm your heart right from the start, as it is funny, endearing and very relatable. Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s third feature unfolds as a first draft of another, more layered, film about a woman getting back to the workplace she abandoned for marriage and motherhood.

Tucked deep inside this insistently feel-good and often shallow film about the liberating possibilities of Kabaddi is a portrait of an idealized family, one in which the husband shoulders his share of child-rearing responsibilities while the wife goes off to pursue her dreams. Her transition from a docile homebody to a fierce sportswoman is also well shown. To support her, director 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 prioritizes his wife over them.

There are times when the 131-minute film is in a tight tackle with itself, in the same way that Jaya jostles with younger and fitter players as she gets back to the sport under Meenu’s watchful eye. Jaya’s journey manages to be both the stuff of fantasy as well as relatable, as the screenplay finds many ways to place obstacles in Jaya’s path, only to yank them away in order to move on to the next inevitable triumph.

Any personal demons Jaya might be battling are swiftly exorcised, and the closest thing the film has to a villain is the heavy-hipped Smita (Smita Tambe), the captain of the Indian Kabaddi team who resents Jaya’s inclusion in the squad.

I loved the film even more for the candid glimpses into real life, like the hilarious sequence where Jaya’s mother tells her what to say in her next TV interview, the Tiger Chan comment, Jaya’s first interaction with her roommate (Megha Burman) in the Kolkata hostel, the scene where Adi asks his father how long his grandmother will live, and the end-credit titles where hilarious sequences come and go in-between the credits.

Yes, the final matches do follow the normal sports film formulae, and often does not deliver in providing the expected thrills and action, but you’ll be cheering with excitement nonetheless. As the film is not about Kabaddi itself but about a mother finding the right moves and surpassing obstacles to win for her passion and her family.

The film also gives a sneak peek into the lives of sports people and athletes. The sacrifice and effort, on the part of both the players and their families, is immense and unrecognized by those outside the arena.

Performance wise, as one would expect, Kangana Ranaut imbues her character with tenderness and as is fabulous in every scene. She is a fabulous actress who should concentrate on (such) work and not just controversies often created by her and her sister. Jassie Gill is also excellent in his role, while Richa Chadha is superb as the pragmatic Meenu who has the best possible explanation for why she isn’t married because she is simply not interested.

Neena Gupta is also a delight in a small role, so is Megha Burman. However, it is the young Yagya Bhasin who steals the show. He is naughty, throws tantrums and sometimes spouts the most horrible things when he isn’t getting his way, just as kids do, but he also makes you fall in love with him. On the whole, ‘Panga’ is a delightfully emotional and inspirational film uplifted by its superb theme.

Directed – Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari

Starring – Kangana Ranaut, Jassie Gill, Richa Chadha

Rated – NR

Run Time – 131 minutes

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