Just before the interval, Kangana Ranaut’s Jaya tells Jassi Gill’s Prashant that when she looks at him, she feels happy, when she looks at their son, Adi (Yagya Bhasin), she feels content but when she looks at herself, there’s no happiness. Playing kabaddi again, for whatever reason, has given her a share of that lost happiness. In this one scene, Ranaut outdoes her entire career in films and gives us what could possibly be her best. For me, this scene was one of the most impactful scenes in the film.
Co-written by Nikhil Mehrohtra, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Nitesh Tiwari and directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, Panga is not a sports drama. It’s an emotional journey above everything, it’s more to do with the normal, than what could be seen as revolutionary. And as the posters of the film tell us, it’s an ode to all mothers. The sports bit comes later in the film, only for you to realise that even though the plot was building upto this moment, it is the emotional ones that make their mark, and add up to the kabaddi matches.
Jaya is a 32 year old mother and wife. She’s been the captain of the Indian Kabaddi team only to give it all up because her son was born with a weak immunity system and she had to be there to take care of him. Seven years and two months later, after her son realises that he was the reason why his mother gave up the sport, he prepares her for a comeback. You know from the first scene that Jaya is going to emerge as a hero. So almost all the burden lies on the telling and the performances and Panga is heavy on both.
One of the many geniuses of Iyer Tiwari’s film is that even though it ventures towards being a sports drama, it never leaves the emotional quotient of the film, and that of the characters. Another is that there are no antagonists in the film. Every problem that Jaya goes through, has a solution in the next scene. In most films, this does not work, but Iyer Tiwari makes it work for her because the message that she tries to give is deeper. Through this, all she’s trying to say is that if we, as a society, let women be, for once, everything comes as naturally to them. They’re born heroes, and the only thing stopping them is our obsession over patriarchy.
The film takes a dip in the second half when the scenes become repetitive and are a little too stretched, but Iyer Tiwari’s writing and all the performances cover up for it. Jaya’s story may be out of the box, but the treatment is never out of the ‘normal’ and that is where Panga emerges as the real winner. As I pointed out earlier – if we let women be, success is only normal for them and not something that they have to struggle for.
Having said that about the writing, it’s important to state that the writing of Jaya would’ve perhaps gone nowhere had Kangana Ranaut not played her. Jaya is a mother. in every single scene, in every decision she makes, her eyes first rest on her son Adi. She’s the caregiver so she has to do what she has to do, with or without guilt. In the case of most mothers, it is with a little guilt. At the same time, Jaya is happy. She finds joy in the life she has chosen for herself. Years ago she wanted to give up kabaddi to nurture her son and has no regret of the same. The only regret she has is that she couldn’t choose both – her family and her passion. Ranaut brings every nuance of Jaya on screen with sensitivity. We’ve seen her play mother in Manikarnika , a sportswoman in Tanu Weds Manu 2 and a middle-class everyday girl in Queen. While Jaya is all of these women, Ranaut plays her part as if she’s never done this before. You don’t see shades of either Lakshmi, Datto or Rani in her performance and that shows what a talent Ranaut is. Only she could’ve played Jaya with so much perfection. This is, indeed, Kangana Ranaut’s finest performance till date.
Jassi Gill plays the ever smiling, supporting husband. There are some flaws in his performance but that’s mainly because he cannot match up to Kangana Ranaut’s finesse. In scenes where he doesn’t share screen space with her, he shines. In the others, stands in her shadow, but you overlook this because of the way his Prashant is written. Prashant is a man who subconsciously supports patriarchy. He can’t cook his meals and even though he and his wife both work, he expects Jaya to serve him all his meals. He expects her to take care of their son too. But at the same time, he loves Jaya, and is willing to compromise on his roles as the provider of the family, to sometimes take care even and eventually, altogether. Gill plays his part well, and even though there are shortcomings, you ignore them because this is the kind of man you’d want in your lives. He’s macho enough but also realises that sharing work load is important. Although he doesn’t do that on a day to day basis, but only when need be.
Neena Gupta gets two-three scenes but in just those she works her magic. In a brilliant scene, she calls up Jaya and asks her to mention her in her interviews in the press. You can see the pride she has for her daughter (Jaya) in just that one dialogue. She’s so powerful. And the real performers of Panga – Yagya Bhasin as Adi and Richa Chadha as Meenu. Bhasin is probably the best child actor I have seen in a while. His dialogue delivery and comic timing are too good. He’s a true find.
Richa Chadha plays Jaya’s best friend-cum-coach and even though she has just a few scenes, she shines (and how) in each one of them. Her performance is fantastic. Again, a lot of the credit also goes to the writing. Meenu used to play kabaddi with Jaya and now that Jaya wants to make a comeback, Meenu is there, 24*7 to help her friend do that. And she expects nothing in return – no fee, no fame, nothing. She’s just a woman helping another woman, or perhaps just a player helping another player. Meenu also has some of the best dialogues. When asked why she hasn’t married yet, she replies, “mann nahi hua,” and while that doesn’t sound as befitting on paper (here), you’ll see the impact on screen.
Beyond and above the sport, Panga is about mothers and their love for us. In a heart breaking scene, Jaya tells Meenu that she’s a mother and mothers don’t have dreams. But is that true? What Iyer Tiwari tells us through this film is a story of sacrifice – a sacrifice that every single mother, like Jaya, goes through to provide for her family. When Jaya has to go to Kolkata to train, she tells Prashant that why she perhaps can’t go is because he won’t be able to perform in her shoes. She says that if she begins to list the work she does for him, their child and their home on a day-to-day basis, it’ll fill up a 200 page notebook. And what do we do for our mothers?
What do you do for your mother?
All in all, Panga is a film you need to watch – for it’s emotions, for it’s writing, for it’s performances and above everything to see what can happen when women forces come together (in this case – Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, Kangana Ranaut, Richa Chadha and Neena Gupta).
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