Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari manages to touch hearts once again, with another tale set in the milieu of small-town India, this time with a sports drama. Panga is a story about having dreams, and overcoming obstacles and living those dreams with constant support from your loved ones. A sports genre film, Panga is a comeback tale of a former Indian women’s Kabaddi captain, who represents the country after a sabbatical of 8 years.

The film starts with a watchman-like person screaming, “Jaagte Raho” in the late hours of the night. All of Bhopal is sleeping but Prashant (Jassie Gill), who’s sleep is being painfully interrupted, thanks to kicks from his wife Jaya Nigam (Kangana Ranaut). These aren’t any regular kicks. They’re rhythmic, systematic, and powerful. They’re athlete kicks.

It’s an innovative way to establish the athletic past of Jaya. The opening song sequence within its few minutes encapsulates quite a lot of the protagonist’s traits and her interpersonal relationships. Jaya is like any middle-class mother, for her, her child is of utmost priority. She is loving, nurturing, always anxious, but slips to the other side of the line and becomes over the top, which no child appreciates, but then, those are just mothers.

Jaya works at the railway ticket counter, but unlike others, she has had a glorious past which she hasn’t continued into her present. On one of the days when she’s working, she sees a junior kabaddi team. She walks up to them, hoping that they remember who she is, but they don’t. On being asked a question, she is unable to say who she used to be, and says, “Kabaddi walon ko kaun pehchanta hai”.

Jaya, a former national team player and captain, at present stage isn’t an athlete anymore, however, willingly so. We cut to a flashback of hers, when her 7-year old Adi (Yagya Bhasin), angrily and immaturely, shuns off his mother for being a mere no one. It is then, that Prashant, tells him as to how, both of them were the pillars that brought her down. Hearing the story, Adi not only feels guilty, but like a young, stubborn, kid, asks his mother to make a “comeback” to the sport she is so passionate about.

Writer/Director Iyer, along with her co-writer Nikhil Mehrohtra, very innovatively establish and peel off the layers of societal pressures and stigmas that Jaya needs to figure out, before she can even think about getting back at the sport. The establishment of this patriarchy seems to come from a very personal space, which just adds onto the authenticity of the narrative. They’ve not only given Kangana, dialogues that give the audience a reality check, but they have also placed and developed characters that break these social barriers.

There is a formulaic template of sports drama wherein a former player of the sport, dreams of returning and over the course of the film, they surpass obstacles to attain their goal. This film also roughly follows the same template, but what differentiates Panga from other comeback stories is the fact that here the struggle is internalised. Jaya Nigam has social and moral struggles which she needs to overcome if she ever wants to play the sport again. The stakes are higher when you willingly give up your own source of happiness. Self-guilt is portrayed with the most delicate novelty, and one dialogue that highlights this volatility is when Kangana tells her husband that how she feels happy when she sees her husband and son, but doesn’t feel the same for herself.

With Nitesh Tiwari given credits for additional screenplay and dialogues, there is no surprise to assume that this film will have a light and funny tone, but will still find a way to convey its message through that laughter, as seen in all his previous films, most recent one being Chhichhore (2019). Shankar Ehsaan Loy, the terrific trio, find yet again, the correct note with their music to uplift certain situations, which the director then visually treats with great intricacy.

The story is as good as its actors, and the same can be said about the cast of this film. Jassie Gill and Yagya Bhasin, both pull of the supporting husband and child with great innocence and sense of happiness, that will put a smile on the viewers face with the way they support Jaya’s character. Richa Chadda plays Meenu, Jaya’s best friend and coach, a feisty woman who doesn’t hold back with what she has to say, but is there for Jaya whenever she needs her, just like best friends do. However, it is Kangana’s show. Kangana gets into the skin of Jaya Nigam, and plays both characters of a nurturing mother and a passionate sportswoman with effortless grace, wooing the audience while also uplifting this film through magnificent internalisation and emotion.

A truly empathetic, though unhurried film, Ashiwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Panga celebrates motherhood, a relationship so intense, nurturing, sometimes even over the top with utmost sincerity. This film also talks about getting a second chance, which not many get and how with support and love from loved ones, everything can be achieved.


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