Panga movie cast: Kangana Ranaut, Jassie Gill, Yagya Bhasin, Richa Chadha, Neena Gupta
Panga movie director: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari
Panga movie rating: 3 stars
Women trying to get back to work after becoming wives and mums is an issue Bollywood hasn’t bothered to explore in any detail. Panga’s protagonist is a former kabaddi player whose life has been subsumed by the tedium of everyday domesticity and jobbery. That Jaya Nigam, played with absolute conviction by Kangana Ranuat, dares to dream of a past life where she was in the spotlight, is a straight-off win, subject-wise.
But just how tough is it for a mainstream Bollywood movie to focus on a woman like Jaya, is evident in the long build-up to the point where she can say to her husband: when I think of you, I feel happy. When I think of Adi (her son), I feel happy. But when I think of myself, I am not so happy. Or words to that effect.
By that point we are fully primed to support Jaya, because we’ve seen her do the stuff middle-class, working mothers do every day of their life: wake up early, get the tiffins packed, see off the child to school, make sure the home runs smoothly, and get herself to office only to have to deal with a tetchy boss. Fine, we say, she’s done all this smilingly, now she can go off and do her thing, if she wants to. And we say this only because the push-and-shove comes from the son (Bhasin), and the husband (Gill).
Phew. What if Jaya’s bosom buddy and kabaddi mate Meenu (Chadha), who is still so married to the sport that she doesn’t have the time for a proper ‘shaadi’, were the ‘heroine’? And the having-plumped-for-ghar-and-grihasti-Jaya was the one in a supporting role? What if, horrors, Jaya had ditched her family, not having found enough fulfillment, and merrily gone her way? Nah, we are still far away from that kind of film.
Till such time, we will make do with Panga, which gives us an array of wonderful women walking the talk. Ranaut has the courage to go plain-faced, minus pancake: her sure-footedness right through the film, on and off the mat, is spot-on. Chadha, armed with a bouncy pony-tail and buoyant back-chat, is a lot of fun, as is Neena Gupta’s bracing mother. The two current kabaddi players, whom Jaya spends time with, in the second half, both leave a mark. And it’s nice that Jaya is made to work hard for her climactic triumph ; the victory is then even sweeter.
My interest flagged a little post-interval, when the film becomes repetitive and flat, and Chadha is used to explain a scene which has just got done, or about to come, like an old-fashioned ‘sutradhar’. But Gill, as the supportive husband, who learns how to function minus his loving wife, is solid, and keeps us going. As does Tailang, in a brief kabaddi official role. Young Bhasin as Adi is a charmer, but is given too much talk-time, and the dialogues he mouths sometimes sound like they are there strictly to be played for laughs.
I will take this, if it comes with a film that celebrates a woman trying to reclaim her dream, even if it comes sanctioned by family. The film springs to life when Jaya raises her fist, and slaps her thigh: it is a ‘panga’ worth taking.