‘Panga’ is more than a sports movie

Written and directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, Panga is about a mother making her return to her passion, kabaddi, a sport akin to wrestling played throughout Asia. Though fairly predictable in its plot, the film is redeemed by unique characters and their compelling relationships. (JRL: 3.5/5) 

Review by FF2 Media Intern Julia Lasker

Panga opens on Jaya (Kangana Ranaut) and Prashant (Jassie Gil) Nigam, a couple, asleep in bed. Over and over again, Jaya kicks her husband’s back in her sleep, a display of her physical fitness and strength and perhaps a metaphor for her subconscious dissatisfaction with their life together. The next morning, Prashant and their son Adi (Yagya Bhasin) tease Jaya for the nighttime pummeling, establishing early on the charming banter that the family maintains throughout the film. 

Clearly, this is a family that loves each other. But when tensions arise between Jaya and her son as she struggles to balance her mundane job as a train ticket agent and her regular duties as a mother, she begins to question the sacrifices she has made for her family. In her younger years, Jaya was a talented kabaddi player. She even rose to be the captain of the Indian team, which is a big deal; other characters she encounters know her name. But when she gave birth to Adi, and learned that he has a weak immune system, Jaya gave up kabaddi to take care of him. When Adi learns of this sacrifice, his frustration with her as a mother quickly subsides and he urges her to go back to kabaddi.

Prashant wants everything to return to normal. He advises that Jaya pretend to go back to training for a month for Adi, and then tell him that she wasn’t picked for the team. But as Jaya begins her training, regains her strength, and starts to play the game again, her passion is reignited and she wants to make a real comeback. To her surprise and delight, she is picked for a team, which means she must leave Prashant to play single parent so she can train with the team. This decision is not easy for her, but she does it anyway. Managing the house without Jaya is hard for Prashant and Adi, but they never waver in their support for her. Then, Jaya is picked for the big leagues, Team India, once again. Jaya’s hard work culminates in the all-Asia championship, in which India faces several countries in kabaddi. The world watches as Jaya fights to secure a win both for India and for all the mothers who want to rekindle their passions and careers.

Panga is pretty predictable as far as plots go. It’s an underdog sports film as you’d expect. This is not to say that the ending isn’t exciting or satisfying; it’s just that you know exactly what’s coming. Having never played a sport in my life, it’s safe to say that this type of film isn’t usually my thing. But I still loved Panga, and that’s a testament to the skills of the writers (Nikhil Mehtrotra and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari) and the director (Iyer Tiwari). I think the reason why it was still enjoyable to someone like me is because it doesn’t rely on the sport to drive its plot. Really, what drives the film is its characters. First, the family: Jaya, Prashant and Adi. Their rapport not only had me laughing out loud, but also makes the family loveable from the very beginning. Their love for each other is never in question, and Prashant and Adi’s support for Jaya really is heartwarming. I applaud Kangana Ranaut, Jassie Gil, and Yagya Bhasin for each of their strong individual performances, but also for the chemistry they achieved together. The supporting characters, specifically Jaya’s kabaddi friends Meenu (Richa Chadha) and Nisha (Medga Burman), are strong and fascinating women with an inspiring support for Jaya and each other. The unique characters and dynamics make an otherwise predictable story compelling. I can only guess that someone with a passion for sports, and specifically kabaddi, will love this film all the more.  

Q: Does Panga pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test? 

A: Yes, definitely! The scenes between Jaya and her friends Meenu and Nisha are some of the best in the film.

© Julia Lasker (1/29/2020) FF2 Media

Photos: Credit to Archit Patel and Jay I. Patel

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