Yahoo Movies Review: Don't take 'Panga' with Kangana

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Entertainment Editor

Yahoo Movies Review: Panga

Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Jassi Gill, Richa Chadda, Neena Gupta 

Director: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari

Rating: ***1/2

Kangana Ranaut is in top form in Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s ‘Panga’, as a gifted kabbadi player (Jaya Nigam) who gives up on a promising sports career after motherhood. Happy to be the quintessential middle-class working mom, her heart yearns for the thrill of being on court once again. What initially starts as a joke to pacify her son, soon seems like a daunting, but not impossible, task for Jaya, who was the former captain of the Indian kabbadi team.

Director Ashwini skilfully handles the predicament of almost every working mother — the challenges, the guilt and the unreasonable yearning to excel at both work and motherhood. When Jaya quits due to her pregnancy, she is supposed to be at the peak of her career and, with a very supportive husband (played by Jassi Gill) hopes to rejoin the team after this small detour. 

Few expectant mothers know that at times it is impossible to plan ahead — each child is unique and motherhood throws up unconceivable, unexpected demands. As a mother, there is little one can do but prioritise the needs of the child before their own ambitions. Jaya’s baby boy is weak and has low immunity; this requires her to stay put at home to be his primary caregiver.

If she thought giving up sports and settling down in a mundane government job would earn her kudos from her son, then Jaya is mistaken. Children don’t put parents on a pedestal for the sacrifices they make. Children take these for granted and soon Jaya’s seven-year-old is giving her grief for not showing up for his race.

The son feels the mother’s job isn’t significant enough for her to miss his important milestone. Back at the job, even an hour’s delay when her son is unwell is met with disdain from her boss and Jaya’s rudely reminded that she is no longer a star player who deserves special treatment.

Despite the challenges, Jaya with support from her husband and friend (Richa Chadda) decides to train for a comeback. Can a 32-year-old really return as a national level player? Even in regular careers, working mothers are seen as a liability; even more so, in the sporting world — this is not just about fighting perceptions but also about physically preparing for the rigours of a contact sport. Having settled into domesticity, Jaya’s fitness has not been her priority over the past few years but now, she needs to be agile and strong to even have a chance at selection.

Kangana powers this role with an effortless performance. She is as convincing as a typical Indian wife and mother as she is as a reluctant senior player trying to find her footing with the new players, who are all younger and more athletic than her. 

Kangana adeptly conveys the guilt of a mother torn between fulfilling her ambition and caring for her son. As a mother, she has to learn to push her own limits, both physical and emotional. It isn’t easy for the mother to not worry about her child’s well-being when she is away. Maybe it’s easier for most men, when they’ve entrusted the mother to be the primary caregiver. 

The director is cognisant of the changes in our society over the years — while in a film such as ‘Chak De India’ (2007), the women’s Indian hockey team enters the competition as underdogs, a lot has changed since. Talk around ‘women’s empowerment' has now enabled a person like Jaya Nigam to be selected because it makes for good PR and makes a wider audience sit-up and take notice of a not-so-popular sports in India.

Working moms have it tough

However, a working mother doesn’t have it easy with her teammates/colleagues as well. No matter, how good she might be at her game, the fact that she once quit, is seen as her not being serious enough about her career. Even their need for some flexibility in the workplace is seen by others as an undue advantage, a liability of sorts. No one sees it as an impossible balancing-act a mother is trying to achieve, no one congratulates her for the constant multi-tasking. Jaya’s guilt and doubt of whether she’s doing enough (as a professional and as a mother) is always her own cross to bear.

The other actors in this story — Jassi Gill, Richa Chadda and Neena Gupta — bolster the storytelling with strong portrayals. Jassi as the supportive husband is commendable as a caring partner who tries his best but is not perfect at household chores. Chadda, as the best buddy and coach, comes across as a strong and positive influence in Jaya’s life. Gupta, the mother, a strong detractor but also, someone who is proud of her daughter’s achievements, has a small but effective presence in the plot.

Ashwini manages a fine balance, seasoning this story with just the right amount of humour and drama to make it an engaging watch. Jaya’s struggle is familiar to a lot of us working mothers: no matter, how hard we strive, we always feel like it’s impossible to be either the best at your workplace or as a mom. 

Why are women only expected to make this choice? Is there a way to introspect and make it a little easier for working moms? Why is it so challenging to try and excel? Kangana aces her act with a heartwarming performance that proves that here’s an actor who can carry a film squarely on her slender, responsible shoulders.

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