Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Richa Chadha, Jassie GillDirector: Ahswiny Iyer Tiwari
Every Kangana Ranaut film release of late is an event—quite an achievement by itself given the disproportionate marketing attention and spends reserved for male stars and their films. This once too the excitement at the media preview for Panga was quite palpable.
The film is about Jaya Nigam, the former rising star on the firmament of Indian Kabaddi who gives up a promising career to take care of her baby. It’s all domestic bliss and a sarkari naukri in the Railways for Jaya, till one fine day she is jolted out of her reverie by her 7- year-old son Adi (Yagya Bhasin). He questions her as to why could she not be there for his race at school like all mothers? After all, she was just selling railway tickets and not doing anything earth-shatteringly important he points out. On being told by his father (Jassie Gill) that she had put aside a great career for bringing him up, the young one is determined to get her back on track and make a comeback. And therein starts Jaya’s journey to find her way back at the age of 32 to her first love, sports.
It’s a story that would resonate with scores of women in India who give up on their dreams in order to take care of home and hearth, never able to fulfill the promise they hold within themselves. Jaya, however, is among the fortunate few who has a real shot at a comeback courtesy a supportive husband and child who want her back in the game.
Kangana Ranaut deserves major praise for making Jaya come alive on screen in a way that only Ranaut can. She does small-town characters better than any other actress of her generation and to this end, Kangana’s portrayal of Jaya is on point. A specifically pitch-perfect instance (one among many) is when she’s fighting with her mom (Neena Gupta) on why she has used sugar in the laddoo instead of jaggery!
Richa Chadha in a special appearance as Jaya’s friend and young kabaddi coach Meenu brings in the humour with her own unique flair while Jassie Gill as the supportive husband wins over with his charm, and as always, Neena Gupta is good too, albeit in a much smaller part. A special mention must also be made of Bhasin, the youngest member of the cast who fits in adorably in the family album.
Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari who gave us the delightful romcom Bareilly Ki Barfi, delivers the story with trademark small-town simplicity, its screenplay neatly unfolding and delivering Jaya to her ultimate goal without any major upsets. What the screenplay lacks in texture, is compensated for by the dialogues superbly written by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, Nikhil Mehrotra, and Nitesh Tiwari.
And though one is relieved that things go as per plan, the smooth, almost too easy surmounting of difficulties without any major detriment robs the film of a heightened dramatic conflict, which perhaps could have made it more impactful. But then again, given the audience’s propensity for stories that are light and breezy, the narrative is likely to help its box- office prospects.
Panga, a colloquial Hindi term for tussle deserves a big pat on the back for once again putting the spotlight on the Indian woman’s existential crisis, a charming addition to the new emerging collection of compelling cinema about Indian women.
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