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Panga review: Earnest, heartwarming story of a mother's comeback to kabaddi

Release Date: 24 Jan 2020 / Rated: U / 02hr 12min

Read in: Hindi | Marathi


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Sonal Pandya

Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari's feature bundles up warmth, emotion and laughs to bring a honest, reflective story of a mother attempting to revive her sports career.

Like the African proverb which states that it takes a village to raise a child, in Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari's Panga (2020), it takes a village to help former kabaddi player Jaya Nigam return to the top levels of the game and get a chance to represent the country. Actress Kangana Ranaut is both formidable and vulnerable as the mother who attempts to live for herself once again.

We find Jaya (Ranaut) in a life of routine domesticity in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, where she and her husband Prashant Sachdeva (Jassie Gill) both work for the Indian Railways. Together, they raise their seven-year-old son Adi (Yagya Bhasin). The trio live a happy life, but Jaya, a former kabaddi champion, feels something lacking.

Unrecognized by the younger lot of kabaddi players, disrespected by her boss, and unappreciated by her son when she misses his sport's day, Jaya knows she has settled for this life when she could have been something else.

When Adi learns of his mother's former life, he persuades her to get in shape again for a comeback. Reluctantly, she dives back, improving slowly and getting fitter and in shape to play kabaddi again. It helps that Jaya's oldest friend and former teammate Meenu (Richa Chadha) returns to guide and encourage her.

With the support of Prashant and Adi, Jaya dives back into the sport, going up against girls much younger than her, both for the adrenaline rush it brings and for fulfilling an old dream — to play for India.

Even though Jaya's story is fictional, the personal struggles and triumphant tales of women like Mary Kom, Serena Williams, Paula Radcliffe and now even Sania Mirza with her latest title in Australia are testament that motherhood is not a hindrance in professional sports.

Panga sets up Jaya's arc wonderfully as she delibrates and decides to play kabaddi professionally. It's doubly hard for her at 32, to prove herself again, to detractors and to her family and friends who have supported her. The screenplay by Ashwiny and Nikhil Mehrotra, and additionally worked upon by Nitesh Tiwari, has wonderful little moments of honesty woven into the story. The screenwriters use both humour and emotion to drive home their points.

Richa Chadha's Meenu is a scene stealer, and her no-filter dialogues hit the mark. The actress is clearly in a supporting part, so her credit for a 'special appearance' comes as a surprise. Child artiste Yagya Bhasin as the precocious Adi is also terrific as the one who sets the ball rolling for his mother's return to competitive sports. Jassie Gill as the inherently good and supportive husband has an excellent introduction to Hindi cinema audiences. Neena Gupta, in a smaller role as Jaya's mom, has some lovely scenes too.

Ranaut, of course, has the most focus as Jaya. She brings out the little touches in her character well, her silences speak more than her character's outbursts in her return to kabaddi. The game is shown in different aspects, from practice in the gym to the all-important international championship. Even those who know nothing of the sport will be engaged.

Where Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari succeeds best is when she shows Jaya in great moments of vulnerability, when she admits to Meenu her limits in kabaddi because of her duties as a mother, or when she tells her husband why she must turn down an offer to play in another city.

Both the background score by Sanchit Balhara and Ankit Balhara and the songs by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy are rousing and keep the mood uplifted throughout. A special mention must be made for the final climatic moment of the film which neatly intercuts Jaya's doubts and insecurities with an emotional personal triumph that will have you cheering as well.

Panga is not just about daring to dream, it is also about taking the next step to actually go after it. This endearing sports film will definitely move you.

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