A small track in Priyanka Chopra-starrer MARY KOM  dealt with the protagonist returning back to boxing after motherhood. It gave a nice insight of what women go through when they make a comeback in sports after giving birth and how it’s tough for them not just physically but more so, mentally. Now Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, of NIL BATTEY SANNATA  and BAREILLY KI BARFI  fame, takes this aspect as a central idea for her next film, PANGA, starring Kangana Ranaut in the leading role. So does PANGA manage to touch as well as entertain? Or does it fail to entice? Let’s analyse.
PANGA is the story of a mother trying to fulfil her dreams. Jaya Nigam (Kangana Ranaut) is a pro at Kabaddi. She slowly rises and also becomes the captain of the Indian Kabaddi team. She is meanwhile married to Prashant (Jassie Gill) and gets pregnant just before she is to go for a major tournament. She still assures her seniors that she’ll be back soon. However, her son is born prematurely and with a very weak immune system. The doctor informs that they’ll have to take care of the baby tremendously and only then will he have a normal growth. Jaya hence gives up her dream. She takes up a job in the railways and divides her time between her work and raising her son Adi (Yagya Bhasin). 7 years pass. Jaya is finding it difficult to fulfil the responsibilities expected from her. Moreover, she meets Meenu (Richa Chadha), who was in Jaya's team and still plays Kabaddi. One day, Adi suggests that his mother should make a comeback in Kabaddi. He persuades Prashant and both begin nag Jaya. Jaya is unsure as she feels she has grown old and is not that fit. Prashant suggests that Jaya should pretend to make comeback and a month later, she can claim that she didn’t get selected. Jaya hence begins her practice. At first, it’s difficult for her but soon, she gets enthusiastic about the whole process. After a long time, she realises she is finally living her life. Two months pass and one day, she tells Prashant that she wants to continue practicing and try to get into the Indian team. What happens next forms the rest of the film.
Divya Rao's research and concept is fairly nice and simple. The story has a lot of potential and also it’s a bit unique. We have had sports films in the past but a film on a mother making a comeback hasn’t been tackled as a main plot. Nikhil Mehrotra and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari's screenplay (additional screenplay by Nitesh Tiwari) also retains the simplicity and relatability. The writing is peppered with some entertaining moments that keep the interest going. On the flipside, it could have been tighter, especially towards the second half. Also, the film gives a heavy déjà vu of DANGAL . Nikhil Mehrotra and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari's dialogues (additional dialogues by Nitesh Tiwari) are one of the highpoints. Some of the one-liners, especially the ones uttered by the child actor, will bring the house down.
Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari's direction is good. It’s evident that her own personal experiences have also seeped in the film. A few sequences are very deftly handled. The finale especially is too good and would be greeted with claps and whistles. The beauty of it is that you know what’s going to happen and yet, you can’t help but feel exhilarated when it unfolds. Also, to see the way Jaya gets the support of her husband, her son, her mother, her bestie and even her neighbour is quite heartwarming and would be loved by female audiences especially. On the flipside, except for the ending, the predictability of the script does affect the impact along with the long length. Jaya’s flashback doesn’t really make it clear that she had achieved such heights of stardom. Also, Prashant seemed sad when Jaya announces her plan to do a comeback but it wasn’t the case, as revealed later on. This bit was bewildering and could have been done away with or handled better.
PANGA has a fine commencement showing the small town life with the focus on Jaya's family and their day to day activities. A lot happens in the first half – Meenu coming back into her life, Jaya missing the sports day, Jaya getting reprimanded by Adi, Jaya's flashback and Jaya’s practise session. The first half surprisingly is just 51 minutes long. The post interval portion, however, is almost 1 hour 18 minutes in duration and could have been shorter. It’s touching to see how Jaya balances between her passion and her family and also the politics that happens over the selection of the team. But the pace of the film is slow here and also, the training session is stretched. Jaya not getting to play for most of the matches also gets a bit repetitive. Thankfully, the climax is powerful which helps the film end on a high note.
PANGA rests on Kangana Ranaut majorly, though others also do well. The actress, as always, delivers a smashing performance and not even for a single second, does she go off character. As Jaya the mother, she’s quite adorable and convincing. And even as Jaya the player, she is effortless. Jassie Gill lends able support and his character will be loved. But he grins a bit too much, especially in the flashback portions, and it makes him look a bit of a caricature. Yagya Bhasin is a rockstar. He gets to play a great part and he uplifts the mood of the film in many places. Richa Chadha is credited as a special appearance part but she has a major role to play. She too contributes a lot to the film, not just in terms of comedy, but also in terms of much-needed moral support to Jaya. Megha Burman (Nisha Das) has a late entry but leaves a huge mark. Neena Gupta (Jaya’s mother) is passable. Rajesh Tailang (Indian national coach) is good and is an actor to watch out for. Smita Dwivedi (Smita Tambe, team captain), Kusum Shastri (Jaya’s neighbour), Sudhanva Deshpande (Indian Railway coach) and Shantanu Das (Eastern Railway coach) are decent.
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's music is soulful but is not memorable at all. 'Bibby Song', the title track and 'Jugnu' are okay while 'Dil Ne Kaha' and 'Wahi Hain Raste' are forgettable. Sanchit Balhara and Ankit Balhara's background score is subtle but rightfully loud in the scene where Adi tells Prashant that Jaya should make a comeback.
Jai I Patel's cinematography is fine in the crucial Kabaddi scenes but in a few scenes, its quite in-the-face. Sandeep Meher's production design is straight out of life. Rushi Sharma, Manoshi Nath and Bhagyashree Rajurkar's costumes also add to the authenticity. Special mention should also go to Sunita Vishwas Rao (Kabaddi co-ordinator), Gauri Wadekar (Kabaddi Coach and choreographer) and Abdul Salam Ansari (Kabaddi action director) for making the Kabaddi scenes look so rich and real. Ballu Saluja's editing should have been slick.
On the whole, PANGA is a progressive and touching sports drama that works thanks to its plot, execution, some fine moments and of course the superlative performance of Kangana Ranaut. At the box office, it faces tough competition from STREET DANCER 3D and also the holdover release TANHAJI: THE UNSUNG WARRIOR and hence it’ll need a strong word of mouth to succeed.