'Panga' review: Kangana Ranaut's film is a heartwarming tribute to mothers

WION Web Team New Delhi Jan 24, 2020, 11.33 AM(IST) Written By: Shomini Sen

File photo of poster of 'Panga' Photograph:( Instagram )

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Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari's 'Panga' is a heartwarming tale of a mother who decides to make a comeback in sports at an age when every player thinks of retirement. 

In a poignant scene in Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s ‘Panga’, as Jaya’s husband and son come to see her off at the station, instead of bidding them farewell, she starts quizzing the two most important men in her life about what all needs to be done at home every day in her absence. How many ml of cough syrup does the son have, what time does his school bus come, how many whistles does it take to boil the daal- hurriedly revising the daily routine before she embarks on a difficult journey- givings wings to her long-suppressed dream. The scene, along with few other similar moments sum up the ‘Panga’ beautifully and narrates the most heartwarming story of a mother who dares to dream for herself at a time when most are wanting to give up.

Jaya Nigam's(Kangana Ranaut) life seems picture-perfect when the film begins. She has a government job, lives in Bhopal with husband Prashant(Jassie Gill), an engineer in the Railways and an over-curious 7-year-old son Adi. While she is a dedicated wife, a loving and anxious mother and a perfect homemaker- in the daily humdrum of life she misses her first love the most. She was a National level Kabaddi player once upon a time- and amid domesticity, Jaya misses the court and her old self the most.

Mind you, she has the most supporting family around and Jaya left sports out of her own will to take care of her son who is born with a medical condition yet she admits to her ever understanding husband then when she looks at herself, she doesn't feel happy. The son is a sprightly young boy who insists on her comeback and the couple agrees to humour him for a month. But Jaya soon realises that this is her calling and she wants to again get back to the game. But taking up sports post domesticity is never easy- a fact that Jaya discovers with every push, every sprint and every bout of game. 

With support from her best friend Meenu, who was a fellow teammate and now a women's Kabaddi team coach, and a lot of egging from her excited son, husband, and mother, Jaya takes on a herculean task to get back to the game and earn a spot in the Indian women's Kabbadi team. 

The beauty of 'Panga' lies in its simplicity. Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari along writes a very detailed screenplay with Nikhil Mehrotra which never overimagines or overdramatizes the narrative. The family of three lives in modest government accommodation in Bhopal, where the set up is just like any ordinary middle-class household and not a slick Instagram friendly household. As Jaya starts training, her rise is never shown as meteoric- she struggles, grapples to first maintain a balance between her family and professional life, then to prove to the world that she still has it her to make it to the Indian team with a body that needs 'oiling'.
 
Sports dramas mostly narrate stories of underdogs, of triumphing over odds. The approach is mostly dramatic- but that is not the case with 'Panga'. Mehrotra and Tiwari along with an additional screenplay by Nitesh Tiwari, find beauty in the everyday routine. There is no oppressive husband here, no critically ill child or parent, no financial hardship- yet Jaya wants to get back to her first love- something that a lot of us can relate to. As Jaya leaves for medical camp, the husband tries to manage the household- as promised to her- and fails quite often much to the son's dismay. The parathas are served burnt, the bed is never made, the food is too oily, even the tiger make up for the school annual function goes awry - things that are part of the daily life start becoming glaringly different because the woman of the house is gone. 

The actors are pitch-perfect in their respective roles. Be it the helpful neighbour who often takes care of the child when the parents are away at work, to the helpful roommate that Jaya meets at camp who like a younger sister guides helps her overcome her shortcomings in the game to the central characters who all cheer Jaya to dream one more time. 

It is refreshing to see Kangana Ranaut play someone so normal and relatable like Jaya. She has over the past few years made her mark playing eccentric characters which have often been compared to her real-life persona, but perhaps Ranauat channelizes her mother and scores of other middle-class mothers in India while playing Jaya. Understated, restraint and very elegant. Jaya is like every other middle-class Indian woman who goes the extra mile to ensure their families get everything and often put their desires and aspirations to rest for domestic bliss. 

Ably supporting Kangana Ranaut is singer-actor Jassie Gill, who never oversteps and plays the supportive husband and doting father to the hilt. There's something really endearing about Gill's personality which makes him perfect for the role of the supportive Prashant. Neena Gupta plays Jaya's mother who is just as spirited as a person as her daughter. Richa Chadha as Meenu, Jaya's best friend and coach, gets the funny lines and delivers a commendable performance in the limited screen time that she has. The star of the film though is young actor Yagya Bhasin who plays Jaya's son Adi- a bright talented find who emotes through his big bright eyes and doesn't have a single false note. His scenes with Gill are so endearing to watch and the two make for a very good father-son duo- complementing each other with great performances. 

The filmmaker who has in the past made films like 'Nil Battey Sannata' and 'Bareilly Ki Barfi' and has by now completely aced the depiction of the societies in small-town India- where they are slowly getting accustomed to modernity but still are rooted to traditions and cultures. With each of her films, Tiwari makes small-town India look warm, real yet fascinating. 

There is not a single false note in 'Panga'. It's that good and that real. The writers show Jaya rubbing off the Indian captain Smita (Smita Tambe) the wrong way in the second half which may appear a tad dramatic and unnecessary but ultimately they put together such a riveting, gripping, sensitive story that this little dramatization can be easily overlooked. 

'Panga' works for its performances, it's an inspiring story and its detailed screenplay. But above all its Ashwini Iyer Tiwari's ode to mothers- the unsung heroes of our lives and that should be a good enough reason to watch the film.