‘Panga’ movie review: Kangana Ranaut's latest is all heart and charm, with an emotional wallop at the end

‘Panga’: Kangana Ranaut brings in the right amount of vulnerability, lack of sureness, yet a determination and cussedness to the character  

There is a phrase that had once been used to describe Frank Capra classics: “fantasies of goodwill”. Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Panga may well be one of the closest and most charming Bollywood equivalents in recent times.

There is a hell of a great deal of positivity, kindness and benevolence flowing in the veins of the denizens of ordinary, middle-class Bhopal. Be it Jaya Nigam (Kangana Ranaut), the former kabaddi champion, now a railway clerk and mother of a 7-year-old, who decides to make a comeback in the game, or her ever-smiling, bright-eyed husband (Jassi Gill) and the delectably precocious son Adi (Yagya Bhasin); everyone is utterly butterly nice. It is heartening to see men becoming the wind beneath the woman’s wings, but it’s not just them alone. Far from being a wet blanket, all of the people in Jaya’s life — from the office colleagues to the neighbour bhabhi, the stern coach or the competitive team captain — are ultimately encouraging when it comes to helping her take the decision forward in the right direction. Only blip, if at all, is the nasty but inconsequential boss.


No wonder the issues here appear to get negotiated with a relative sense of ease and might seem devoid of any major complexities. But not once does the film feel unreal, pretentious or righteous, and thankfully doesn’t wallow in its nobility. The essential feel-goodness doesn’t come across as specious or contrived.

Like Mary Kom, Panga is about how love, marriage and children need not come in the way of any sportswoman’s success, but what sets it refreshingly apart is a wonderful sense of humour. The problem might be serious, but the telling is light-hearted. The over-arching goodness is balanced out perfectly with a jovial impertinence. There is a loveable cheekiness to characters, from the mother (Neena Gupta) to even the family doctor and especially when it comes to the son Adi and bestie Meenu (Richa Chadha). The persistent, playful sparring in almost all the relationships is disarming. The credit should go to the writing (Nikhil Mehrotra and Ashwini Iyer Tiwari), especially the dialogues, which is delightfully pert and saucy, spilling over with little, chuckle-along moments.

  • Director: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari
  • Starring: Kangana Ranaut, Jassi Gill, Yagya Bhasin, Richa Chadha, Neena Gupta, Smita Dwivedi, Megha Burman, Rajesh Tailang, Sudhanva Deshpande, Kusum Shastri
  • Storyline: A former kabaddi champion, now a railway clerk and mother of a 7-year-old, decides to make a comeback in the game
  • Run time: 131 minutes

There is the charm of the quotidian, the simple pleasures of the family’s scooter ride and chaat outing. However, the measured script handles the big scenes just as well. There is an authenticity, not just in the evocation of the small-town rhythms but also the world of railways and the slice of sports; from the technicalities of kabaddi to the typical tropes of a sports film, right down to the build-up, snatching victory from the near-defeat and the triumph of the underdog. Yet there is a freshness, anticipation, investment and an overwhelming lump-in-the-throat, emotional wallop in the lead up to the expected finale on the mat.

Nowhere can the disjunction between the reel and the real be more evident than in the persona of Kangana Ranaut. Her highly questionable stand on issues (especially of late) aside, she continues to play an interesting array of women on screen. A bunch of the recent ones may not have made the desired impact, but Jaya reaches out in a wholesome, winsome way. Ranaut brings in the right amount of vulnerability, lack of sureness, yet a determination and cussedness to the character, be it crying while making rotis or demanding that she be understood in the same way as she is held responsible for understanding the men in her life. Without quite making a show of it, Ranaut even works on a distinct body language for each of the phases, transforming without making it obvious: from the sprightly young champion to the weary mother to the fitness-seeking comeback player.

A consistent pattern in Ranaut’s recent work has been the overt lack of big male stars. But Jassie Gill is not denied his share of the spotlight. In fact every character and actor, right down to the smallest of supporting ones — Kusum Shastri as the neighbour, for instance — make an impression. The sparklers of the show, however, are “bhagwan ka roop” child Yagya Bhasin and Richa Chadha specially when she is drawing parallels between raiding in kabaddi and setting up “rishta” with a potential groom.

‘Panga’ is a Hindi word which may roughly translate to “meddling with” or “messing up” but the English phrases somehow are not quite able to capture and communicate the multifarious nuances the word acquires when applied to different contexts. All one can say is that the characters in the film, the writing and filmmaking itself are all about taking panga with the defined and the established norms. The kind of panga that deserves more power.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 1:01:59 PM |

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