panga review

Kangana Ranaut stars in “Panga.” (photo provided)

MUMBAI — Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and whizkid husband Nitesh Tiwari (billed here as Additional Screenplay and Dialogues writer), specialize in hugely positive films that revolve around a family’s interpersonal relationships. They make you feel, in the best traditions of masters like P.G. Wodehouse and our own homegrown filmmakers like Hrishikesh Mukherjee and R. Balki, that the sun is shining brightly all is right with this world, and endorse the credo that home, parents (of all ages), children (also of all ages) and families are of prime importance in life.

After delighting us with supreme confections like “Nil Battey Sannata” (an ode to mothers) and “Bareilly Ki Barfi” (an ode to parents as well as grown-up children), one of our finest (if not THE finest) female filmmakers, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, makes a solid impact again in this superbly-crafted and narrated ode to a mother and a woman.

We are introduced to a small family that is a delightful unit of middle-class Indian society, living in Bhopal. Father Prashant Srivastava (Jassie Gill), mother Jaya nee Nigam (Kangana Ranaut) and son Aditya a.k.a. Adi (Yagya Bhasin—one of the finest child discoveries in the last two years) are perfectly in sync with each other, perfectly in love with each other.

The child’s responsibilities are shared equally, the daily chores attended, the small pleasures and luxuries (like a pizza) indulged and life is a pleasant melody. Both the parents are working, and they managed the daily grind, sometimes with the help of a kindly neighbor (Kusum Shastri). Jaya often rues that an ex-national Kabaddi champion is not even recognized now, but she is settled in her Railways job and home.

There is one small hiccup: at night, she kicks in her sleep as she dreams about playing Kabaddi!

And thereby hangs a tale: Jaya was a National level Kabaddi champion, who sacrificed her dreams and ambitions as soon as she became pregnant, all for the sake of her newborn baby. Though a supportive husband had never stopped her from playing Kabaddi after marriage, her pregnancy had not been planned.

A situation where she angers her now-school-going son leads to Prashant explaining to Aditya how much mommy has done for them both and about her sacrifice, and the son asks why mommy cannot rejoin Kabaddi now and fulfill her dream to play for India. To please him, the parents pretend to let mommy resume training. The plan is to tell Adi after a month that she cannot do it anymore. In Jaya’s words, neither her “kamar” (waist) nor “umar” (age) are right anymore for the game.

By coincidence, her bestie and fellow Kabaddi player Meenu (Richa Chadha) has come to their town to train girls in Kabaddi, and when Jaya realizes that her dream has actually revived now, it is time for husband and child to do their bit for the woman who does so much for them both.

A heartwarming saga, the film rocks throughout with its lifelike and often uproarious humor stemming from real-life and also out of a child’s innocence.  Jaya’s mother (Neena Gupta) is another fascinating figure, ardently supportive of her daughter who takes on the “panga” (clash or challenge in this context) of battling with age, society and a young generation to revive and complete her dreams.

I loved the film even more for the candid glimpses into real life, like the hilarious sequence where Jaya’s mother tells her what to say in her next TV interview, the “Tiger Chan” comment, Jaya’s first interaction with her roommate in the Kolkata hostel, the scene where Adi asks his father how long his grandmother will live, and the end-credit titles where hilarious sequences come and go in-between the credits. Yes, the final matches do follow the normal sports film formulae, but that is eminently permissible given the story and its larger message.

Every frame of the film, every line, every dynamic shows the masterly hand of Ashwiny, and here’s one of those very rare filmmakers in today’s times with an ascending graph with every film. The Tiwaris, aided by co-writer Nikhil Mehrotra, seem to be mirroring the happenings in their own family, as their children watch both father and mother pass in every championship (read their films) with flying colors!

The background score (Sanchit Balhara & Ankit Balhara) is top-rate, and the songs alright within the film, though the “Bibby” song with its crazy lyrics (Javed Akhtar) stands out.  The technical side is very skilled, and Bhopal, we must say, looks a delectable place, thanks to Jay I. Patel’s splendid camerawork. Ballu Saluja’s editing is tight but thankfully not jerky.

Kangana Ranaut is fabulous in every scene—as someone in office, as the young Kabaddi champ, as the girlfriend, wife and mother, and as the woman who wishes to fulfill her incomplete dream. Here is a fabulous actress who should concentrate on (such) work and not controversies. In a role of major substance, she takes to it as if to the manor born, also indicating her resonance with the character, because Ranaut’s family offered her similar support for her dreams.

Yagya Bhasin is a precious find and his expressions and intonations are to die for. We hope to see more and more of him. Jassie Gill is perfect as the low-key Prashant, the backbone of Jaya’s life. Neena Gupta is a delight. Richa Chadha, after a rather unsure and low-key start, gets into the mood and delivers a solid performance. Her deadpan, slightly rural delivery of her lines gives them a rare flavor. A special note for Megha Burman, who is outstanding as Jaya’s roommate and later close friend: she is superb in a brief role.

The last four months have been bountiful for Hindi cinema with “Mardaani 2” and “Good Newwz,” (both in 2019),  “Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior” and “Panga” stunning us. The 2019 movies were memorable. But “Tanhaji…” and this film are just perfect. Here’s hoping the wave continues.

Rating: *****

Produced by: Fox Star Studios

Directed by: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari

Written by: Nitesh Tiwari, Nikhil Mehrotra & Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari

Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy

Starring: Kangana Ranaut, Jassie Gill, Richa Chadha, Yagya Bhasin, Neena Gupta, Pankaj Tripathi, Smita Dwivedi, Megha Burman, Rajesh Tailang, Smita Dwivedi, Kusum Shastri & others

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