By Vinayak Chakravorty
“Panga” is the sort of film you easily fall in love with. It has a stellar cast in fine form, is directed by a filmmaker who knows her business of storytelling only too well, and it manages to deliver a topical comment without getting too preachy about it.
Co-writer and director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari takes to a small town milieu to draw a plot and characters. We are introduced to Jaya Nigam (Kangana Ranaut) from Bhopal, who blissfully balances a doting husband and son with her job as a railway ticket clerk.
Nitesh Tiwari’s screenplay establishes Jaya’s extraordinary past with a few quick scenes at the very outset. She was a star kabaddi player who even captained India once, before she gave it all up for marriage and motherhood.
Jaya may believe she is happy with her current life but her passion for kabaddi still lurks subconsciously somewhere within. The fact is conveyed in a brilliantly-written scene right at the start where, deep in sleep, she literally throws her husband (Jassi Gill) off the bed with a barrage of kicks.
Twist in Jaya’s tale comes when her little boy discovers she had given up her dream to raise him. His innocent insistence that she must try for a comeback in the sport sounds crazy to Jaya at first, but it soon begins to take shape of a reality that can be realized.
What comes across as a downer of sorts is the film’s lack of genuine apanga’ moments, despite the realism that sustains its plot and characters. Everything and everybody in this film seems so nice at all times. Jaya is nice, so are her husband, kid and mom. Her best friend is nice and so are the coaches, selectors, even rival players within the team.
Such warts, however, are covered up easily by the film’s brilliant cast. Kangana Ranaut shines above all in an authorbacked role, balancing with aplomb the various streaks that define Jaya.
While Jassi Gill essays Jaya’s husband with an understated quality, child actor Yagna Bhasin is simply outstanding as her son. Richa Chadha, as Jaya’s best friend and comeback mentor, and Neena Gupta as her mother add value to the narrative despite minimal footage.