‘Pangaa’ review: Wrestling Comebacks

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

It can’t be easy throwing it all away to reset your life after you discover the after-effects of what was a session of passionate abandon and pleasure. Not that director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari can be bothered with that scene to up any voyeuristic tendencies on your part. It’s when Jaya Nigam (Kangana Ranaut) has her past recounted by her wondrously supportive husband Prashant (Jassie Gill, absolutely a warm delight) to their mildly precocious son Adi (Yagya Bhasin cracking his role with all the earnestness and irritating zest that children of his character’s age carry) that the latter—and you—realize how, in a gulp of a second Jaya’s made a choice about her north-zooming career in kabaddi  in the Indian Railways. In that fleeting moment, she’s thrown away what would’ve taken her to top of the national team, and perhaps more.

Jassie Gill plays the role of the ideal husband with a heartwarming likability.

But Panga (To Mess With) isn’t a forlorn tale of what could’ve been. Through director Iyer’s sunny and warm lens, it’s the way forward for a 32-year old mother and what it takes for her to make a comeback into the push, drag, and raid world of kabaddi, and more importantly, what it takes for others around her to make it happen. Collaborating on the writing with Nikhil Mehrotra and (hubby) Nitesh Tiwari, Iyer creates an almost lab-like perfection of a familial setup, where Jaya’s literally coerced by Adi to take up her passion again. And it’s up to the father-son duo to ensure that she rides over all the demons of self-doubt, flagging physical abilities, and a nagging boss to make it happen. There’s also Jaya’s mother, played with a heart-of-gold loveable touch by Neena Gupta. As mothers go, she does too—denouncing the ostensibly stupid choice the family’s made, but when it comes to stepping in and dishing out support—and steaming food to Jaya’s boys—it’s she who steps on the gas (or LPG cylinder, if you will).

Kangana Ranaut and Richa Chadha are bound by tag and raid.

Then there’s Jaya’s best friend and former team mate and now coach Meenal Singh (played with a casual swagger by Richa Chadha who hits her accent with precision when you first see her, only to forget it elsewhere) who becomes her re-entry pole-vault into the arena. (Sports purists will throw the javelin at this horrendous metaphor mix of games; but in that sense Jaya’s struggle in her game to tag and reach her end of the court, even as she’s dragged back by her opponents is a huge metaphor for a come-back mom’s struggle: the forces dragging her back are all societal, while her push and strain to touch the other side of success and acceptance is all hers.) Plus there’s a late entrant to the bolster club, Jaya’s current team mate, Nisha Das (Megha Burman, superb). All of them, supportive and wonderfully loving of Jaya. Whose seven-year itch—as for so many women—doesn’t match what we men would think (or have).

Kangana Ranaut has her eye on her family all the time.

Ideal situation much? That’s pretty much the movie’s premise, at least under the radar. Why should a set up that’s so supportive of a woman be termed idealistic? Isn’t this how society’s supposed to function? But it doesn’t. So thank god for Panga for supplying us with an anti-reality checklist. And also shining the torchlight of being a mother right in our eyes. Being a mother is so many things, but what outweighs Jaya’s career aspirations and successes is the guilt of being a mother. That’s as powerful a driver as love for women. While the patriarchs bounce off to work, working mothers are wracked with guilt. How do you reconcile the now-cut-but-phantom-cord that binds you to the living being you nurtured within yourself, throwing all that was normal for you out the hormonal window? And then when you want to get back to work, how do you balance the fight to survive the pressure of work with the guilt of being a mother? How do you take on a system that’s got a seemingly phlegmatic superior (Rajesh Tailang as national coach Sinha) or a team captain who’s got a grudge that could be just woman-versus-woman repel or for its sake (the talented Smita Tambe looking equally stumped with her role’s motives)?

Panga doesn’t always have answers to those questions in its almost chirpy take—and when it does, they seem to be too straight as an arrow, but in Kangana’s superb, understated performance (and sans any alcoholic or bitter fuel driving her character) do you find the questions to those simplistic answers. In her kohl-lined eyes do you see the simultaneous, dichotomous heartbreak and joy of being a mother—when she sees her future light up with the joy of delivering a baby, only to realize in a split-second that that light’s coming from the combusting of her ambitions.

Panga (2020) on IMDb Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.

‘Pangaa’ is rated U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition)
Pangaa
Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari Time 2h 11min
Writers  Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, Nikhil Mehrotra, Nitesh Tiwari
Stars Kangana Ranaut, Jassie Gill, Richa Chadha
Genres  Romance, Drama

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