Being a good father starts with respecting your child’s mother:this is one of the most important takeaways from Panga, which released on January 24.
The film, which urges you to give a chance to mothers to pursue their passion beyond family and daily job, is all about how women’s empowerment should go beyond conversations and debates into our day-to-day lives.
The sweet and humorously written narrative also tells you that while motherhood is the most important job in the world, it is unfair to define a woman just in her role a mother. She has passions and ambitions too, and deserves a chance to pursue them. The movie puts across the reality that happy wives/mothers also miss their passion; that’s what makes us who we are.
Directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari (of Bareilly ki Barfi-fame) and written by Ashwiny’s husband Nitesh Tiwari (of Dangal fame), the Kangana Ranaut starrer is set in Bhopal. Kangana plays former Kabbadi superstar Jaya Nigam who now works at the Railway station, and lives in a government quarters with her loving husband and son.
Ably supported by Richa Chadha (as Jaya’s best friend Meenu), Jassi Gill (as Jaya’s husband Prashant), Neena Gupta (as Jaya’s mother), and young Yagya Bhasin (as Jaya’s son Adi), Kangana gives her best to the character of Jaya Nigam. Whether in the Kabbadi scenes in which she has to be physically flexible like a pro, or in the nuanced parts where her eyes do all the talking, Jaya is safe in Kangana’s hands.
The ‘Panga’ of Mothers and Sons
Jaya just wants to pretend to be training for Kabbadi for her son Adi who wants her to make a comeback. But she realises how much she had missed the sport which was her whole life till Adi was born, and wants to give her best shot to making an actual comeback. (The adorably precocious seven-year-old even wakes her up for jogging.)
In a masterfully directed scene, Jaya tells Prashanth she is happy when she looks at her husband and her son but not when she looks at herself. To Ashwiny’s credit, the scene is not over-dramatised, but poignant and relatable. Jaya’s life does revolve around her husband and son – like most mothers – and she has lost herself somewhere along the way in the domestic bliss.
It is a tad hard to believe how supportive Jaya’s husband and son are in her ambition. When Jaya laughs why she can’t have anything normal in her life, it is pretty ironical – because the ‘normal’ Indian middle class husband (on and off screen) does not let his wife move across the country for sports, not without guilt-tripping her at least. But Jassi’s Prashanth is the husband who is ready to take a plunge into domestic duties to ensure that his wife is at peace in Kolkata, where she is training for the national team.
Putting Health First
Panga is also a reminder to women to take care of their health, which they often tend to ignore despite fussing over the health and well-being of everyone else in the family. (August 15 and January 26 are Independence Day and Republic Day for Prashant; but for Jaya those are the days to give de-worming medicine for Adi.) Jaya is the mother who insists on taking her sick son to the doctor herself even though she will be berated by her boss for being late to work; but she seldom pays attention to her own fitness - till Adi takes matters into his hand.
After all, she gave up Kabbadi for her son when he was born prematurely and needed extra care and attention during his initial months. “Mama will take care of you. Mama will make you strong,” Jaya tells a tiny Adi placed in the hospital’s NICU, with tears and determination. You see that Jaya is fully dedicated as a mother – putting her child first on her own, not out of compulsion.
Yet, when Prashant tells their son about Jaya’s sacrifice, Adi also asks him why he didn’t help Jaya. Prashant is easily guilt-tripped; but he was not the dominating husband who made her stay home. The fact that it was Jaya’s choice makes it even more relatable. It is good to see Hindi cinema maturing; even if it took more than two decades after Akele Hum Akele Tum.
Jaya is just like most mothers - who want to micromanage everything, not asking for husband’s help or having no confidence to let him take over. Plus, Jaya is not as mature and confident as Tara Shinde (played by Vidya Balan) in Mission Mangal, who works for 15 hours a day on her ISRO project and comes home around midnight but bluntly tells her husband not to guilt-trip her because she loves what she does.
Women Backing Each Other
As Ashwiny has said, women supporting and empowering each other is a rarity. In her film, the protagonist has to deal with jealousy from her team captain on the one hand; but on the other, Jaya has the strong backing of her BFF Meenu and her team-mate Nisha.
Meenu – unmarried, living and breathing Kabbadi, and leading an independent and relatively easier life – is the kind of best friend every woman deserves. When Jaya calls herself a selfish and cruel mother for pursuing her passion at the cost of being away from her family, Meenu is flustered but does not give up. She later comes all the way to Kolkata to help train her. During the team selection process, she makes the selector see how the former star has the benefit of experience and wisdom compared to her peers: a lesson for all women coming back to work after a break (and a reminder to potential employers.)
Jaya also has the backing of her coach, a man who genuinely believes that adding Jaya to the team will help women’s kabbadi get more attention. “Everyone wants to see a child’s mother make a comeback,” he rightly says.
In a scene remindful of the spirit of Chak De! India, Jaya shows her sportsman spirit when she is benched for the major part of the tournament. “Team bringing the cup back is more important than my return,” she says, yet her frustration is obvious when she gets angry at Prashant and tells him not to come for the next match (which he ignores).
The cinematic climax is forgivable, because Ashwiny has ensured that you take home a message and a lot of warmth - so much that you would want to hug you mother after watching Panga.