Review: Jaya Nigam’s (Kangana Ranaut) life is steeped in domesticity – motherhood and a job at the railways – when somehow a passion she had laid to rest years back, catches up with her. At one time, the captain of the national kabaddi team, she now juggles life between her seven-year-old son, Adi (Yagya Bhasin), household chores and her humdrum job. And amidst all this, she barely manages time for herself even though her husband, Prashant (Jassie Gill) is supportive enough and they share a wonderful relationship. Moreover, Jaya is the all-out doting mother, extra cautious and always anxious. So when Adi stumbles upon the fact that she used to be a star player and wishes to see her play again, she decides to oblige, even if just to humour him for a short while.
And although that’s how it starts off, Jaya soon realises that her heart is set on regaining her lost glory and fulfilling a dream she left mid-way. But now saddled with all the domestic responsibilities, will it be an easy decision to make? And also, after a seven-year hiatus will she find a place in the team again, amongst a much younger and enthused team.
Ashwini Iyer Tiwari creates a world set in the by-lanes of Bhopal that is soaking with small town milieu – a motif that has arguably become a tired template in Hindi movies now. But here, it is infused with a refreshing energy. The characters don’t feel like caricatures, but are real and palpable.
From Meenu (Richa Chadha), her best friend and a kabbadi coach to Jaya’s mother (Neena Gupta) to even her team mate Nisha (Megha Burman) – each of these women are well fleshed out characters playing an intrinsic part in the narrative. As do Adi and Prashant.
At one point in the film, to stress upon how much she wants to go back to kabaddi, Jaya says, “Main kya kar sakti thi, aur main kya kar rahin hoon”, as she holds back her tears and goes into the kitchen. In another scene she tells her husband that while she is expected to understand everyone’s needs, no one seems to understand hers. And when she speaks of the happiness that fills her when she looks at Adi and Prashant she also adds, “Par jab main khud ko dekhti hoon toh woh khushi nahin milti hain.”
The narrative is filled with potent yet subtle moments like these that translates the eternal tussle between domestic responsibilities and fulfilling one’s dreams that many mothers go through. The screenplay that traverses through this journey of a sprightly young mother who decides to give her best shot to a second chance, is taut and wholesome, bringing out a story that is emotional, inspiring, nuanced and thoroughly engaging. The dialogues are sparkling and injected with humour and there are some delightful touches like the school mom’s Whatsapp group, which finally the father becomes part of. In fact Prashant’s character is also heroic in his own silent way. The writing by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, Nikhil Mehrohtra and Nitesh Tiwari is brilliant and is the backbone of the film. The soulful soundtrack (music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, lyrics by Javed Akhtar) is woven in so smoothly that it never distracts yet touches the right chord.
Moving to the performances, Kangana Ranaut as Jaya is terrific and the tour de force of the film – at home she is the gentle, dutiful Jaya who is simmering with this latent desire to break out and catch up with her dreams. And when she is on the court Kangana thrills with an absolutely throbbing, pulsating performance. She breathes in vulnerability and power – switching between the two facets of her character so swiftly and seamlessly that it is totally fascinating.
The support cast too pitch in ace performances – Richa Chadha is superb as she gets under the skin of her steely character and also brings in plenty of the laughs. Jassie Gill as the supportive husband is impressive and does full justice to a very well written role. Debutant Yagya Bhasin as the Jaya’s driving force stands out with his comic timing. Neena Gupta is superlative – especially in the scene where she talks to Jaya on the phone. Megha Burman shines as the young kabbadi player.
‘Panga’ is a film that honours the endless hours of work that mothers put behind their families and at the same time urges them to never give up on their dreams and to take that second chance. It not only forms an important voice at a time when so many women drop out of the workforce, it is also an extremely well-crafted film. The humor and emotionally charged moments are deliciously balanced and the outcome is motivating and exhilarating. This ode to motherhood and chasing one’s dreams is a must watch.