Panga: Kangana is the soul of this sports story

Film: Panga

Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Jassie Gill, Neena Gupta, Richa Chadha, Yagya Bhasin, Smita Tambe

Director: Ashwini Iyer Tiwari

Rating: ***

Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s films (Nil Battey Sannata, Bareilly ki Barfi) are rooted in small town India and Panga is no different. The protagonist in Panga, a slice of life sports drama, Jaya Nigam (Kangana), an ex-kabbadi India Team Captain, lives with her loving supportive husband Prashant (Jassie Gill) and seven year old son Adi (Yagya Bhasin). Taking care of her ever-supportive husband, immunity weakened son, household chores and work (ticket clerk) related issues gives her happiness but fulfilment is still lacking. She still feels like she had to leave her Kabbadi career before she could fulfil her ambitions. Not that she is blaming anyone though. It’s just one of those twists of fate she wants to correct.

Prodded on by a son who feels guilty for belittling her job, a husband who prefers appeasement and a buddy Meenu (Richa Chadha) who is ever supportive, outspoken and frank, Jaya tries to regain her lost glory. But its a tough path to tread and she is plagued by self-doubt, anxieties about home and family, and fitness issues that may well derail her comeback.

The collaborative script by Ashwini Tiwari and Nikhil Mehrotra looks into the intimate details of a woman’s struggle. The scope may be limiting but every moment is made to count.

Ashwini’s narrative opens with a deep-into-the-night bedroom sequence where we see a couple on a bed and at intermittent intervals, while in deep sleep, the wife keeps kicking her husband. The message that even after a nine year hiatus, the ex-sportswoman still has a yen for her ‘dream’ sport, is unmistakable. The husband Prashant is pretty sporting about this inadvertent abuse while the son Adi playfully questions his father’s penchant for it.

It’s a domestic sequence that brings home to us the regular contours of this nuclear family. A chance meet-up with best buddy Meenu (who is still married to the sport) makes the lack of fulfilment in her own life more acute for Jaya. Thereafter its all about trying to regain fitness and train for a comeback into the Indian team.

Meticulously executed, emotional-impact calibrating economical shot taking aside, there’s plenty more adding substance and meaning to this film. The dialogues display sharp wit as Meenu and Adi get in their mini punches along the way. The performances are brilliant and mesh together so beautifully that no one actor is allowed to stand-out. Kangana is the soul of the film but the rest of the players including Richa, Jassi,Yagya Bhasin, Neena Gupta, Smita Tambe as the current team captain and the lesser players are its heart.

There’s no undermining the sincerity and effortlessness displayed by this ensemble drama that works up an intimate appeal for gender equality. Ballu Saluja’s editing, Jay I Patel’s camerawork and crystal clear sound design allow for greater involvement.

There’s no sermonising here — just feel-good, jovial story-telling that is sure-footed and impact driven.

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