What else should one expect from a film whose trailer was one of the most watched and loved trailers of 2019? After two back-to-back successes with ‘Nil Battey Sannata’ and ‘Bareilly Ki Barfi’, director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari returns with her third directorial ‘Panga’, supported by a woman as the central protagonist. Or should I say women?
‘Panga’ is the story of railway employee Jaya Nigam, a former National Kabaddi champion who is now happy and content, living the middle class family life with her engineer husband, Prashant (Jassie Gill) and seven-year old son Adi (Yagya Bhasin). She routinely tries to connect with her fellow Kabbadi playmate Meenu (Richa Chadha) and is constantly chided about her responsibilities by her mother (Neena Gupta). A chance confrontation between Jaya and Adi brings the latter to realise how his mother gave up on her most nurtured ambition for his sake. Adi encourages his mother to take charge and pursue her dream, once again. Jaya succumbs to her son’s innocent request to keep him happy, but what happens when her own aspirations surface?
Written by Ashwiny and frequent collaborator Nikhil Mehrotra, with additional screenplay by husband Nitesh Tiwari, ‘Panga’ in its routinely incorruptible course, starts an important dialogue on how the society shamelessly ignores the everyday sacrifices and resolves made by our mothers. So much of the dialogue is executed effortlessly through witty and heartfelt one-liners. The screenplay beautifully fits in relatable scenes that you’re bound to remember your own personal conversations with your parents. For instance, a mother’s resolve to pursue her interest gets drowned out in an on-going argument over having sweets with milk. Or how a son shows his father the mirror saying his mother could’ve continued her pursuit had the father taken charge. The film is also a beautiful celebration of sisterhood. Which is extremely important considering how society reserves respectability for the married women but is quick to pass a quip or two about the ones who are single. Every line that Richa speaks is likely to elicit loud laughs from all the single ladies out there. Edited to a crisp two hours and nine minutes by Ballu Saluja, the cinematography by Jay Patel, the production design by Sandeep Meher and the costume design by Rushi Sharma, Manoshi Nath and Bhagyashree Rajurkar add the deep-rootedness of an India that feels more Indian. On a personal note, watching Kangana donning some pretty salwars reminded me so much of my mother.
Which brings me to the performances. Kangana invests Jaya with the same sincerity, grit and determination that’s now possibly her trademark. Like her or hate her, you have to hand it over to her for how she does not let her craft slip away, despite all the off-screen muck that she keeps getting sucked in. Just a glance at her career trajectory since her National-Award winning acts in ‘Queen’ and ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’ will testify my point. Jassie makes Prashant, the ideal prince charming you wish they told you about in stories. He is not a knight in shining armour but his disarming smile is his biggest weapon. What I particularly liked and appreciated about his role, is that he is not shown as a saviour or a Mr. Goody Two Shoes. He is naïve and pretty much a victim of a conditioning that makes most men believe that domestic responsibilities are an area of expertise reserved for women. But your heart goes out for the young Yagya who plays Adi. He is a testament to the popular saying in Hindi which translates to children are a reflection of God. His wit and innocence add unintentional maturity to his performance. As much as he is mature beyond his years, Richa as the child-like Meenu is a scene-stealer and an absolute hoot. A part of me wanted to reach out and hug her. The actress is as acidic and savage with her lines in the film as she is with her trolls, off-screen. Which also reminds me as to why she is glaringly credited as a special appearance given that she has much more screen presence than Neena ji in the film. Neena ji, with her limited screen-time offers the most heart-aching scene that beautifully conveys how so many mothers across the world live vicariously through the joys and happiness of their children.
‘Panga’ is that rare film that leaves you chuckling, occasionally in tears and eventually, you walk out of the screens, feeling a sense of victory and maybe, a new resolve.