Panga is a good film that could have been great. It is set on a very relevant and important theme of how one can reignite the flame of passion in women who make do with themselves and their dreams trapped in the realms of a kid and a home, provided the same family can stand behind her like a rock. Naturally the potential of the film to touch some raw emotional core was huge. Ashwini Iyer Tiwari has a panache for picking up such relevant slices of life and let those stories soar through her deft and deep writing while sprinkling them with everyday humor. Unfortunately it is her uneven and somewhat impassionate writing here that does not reach the height of her first two films, and leaves behind a somewhat tepid Panga.
Her take on this underdog story is too simplistic, and her approach to her protagonist’s journey is rather flat. She does build in some lovely moments in this close knit middle class family of Bhopal and the first half of the film is actually the familiar Ashwini and her restrained and sensitive take on emotions flowing like a river. To her credit, even after casting a big star like Kangana Ranaut as her main lead Jaya Nigam, she doesn’t write a one sided screenplay only centered around her, and lends enough weight to develop the characters of her supportive husband Prashant and a somewhat oversmart but a very cute son Aditya. Some small moments created between the mother and son, the father and son, the husband and wife, and the whole family together are the biggest strengths of the film, as are the performances of Kangana, Jassie Gill and the young Yagya Bhasin in all those characters. Kangana Ranaut internalizes Jaya completely and gives a refreshingly restrained performance in all her avatars of a caring mother, a responsible but apprehensive partner, and a passionate and matured sportster. The little nuances that she brings in to build the vulnerability of Jaya are wonderful. Jassie Gill matches her note by note creating a beautiful chemistry with Kangana, and after the film a lot of girls are going to wish that they get an understanding partner like Prashant. The champion of the family and the film though is Yagya Bhasin and he delivers the most enjoyable lines of the film with surprising smartness and confidence while remaining endearing all the time. Wish the same could be said about the entire family though – Neena Gupta as Jaya’s mother remains significantly underutilized for her talent, and she is used more like a filler rather than really adding an emotional core to Jaya’s journey like rest of the family.
On the whole, in spite of a lived in setup, there was still so much to explore in the dynamics of the family. Somewhere Ashwini’s gaze remains very on the surface, and so we don’t end up getting as much involved in this family’s trial and turbulences as we should have. Same is the case of Jaya’s relationship with her long time friend and now coach Meenu (Richa Chaddha). There’s something strongly lacking in their chemistry, and even the writing for Meenu plus performance of Richa (including her mannerisms and accent) remains inconsistent. As a result, the rather long second half that primarily wants to build itself on this relationship and Jaya’s comeback journey falls even more flat and never ever reaches any emotional high. We see the same old tropes of a sports film used all over again (including a specific winning move angle, a hostile coach segment, some heated team dynamics drama, and more) – and we exactly know from a distance how each of these drama elements are all going to play out. One begins to sense that possibly even Ashwini knew that there isn’t enough in her writing to arouse sentimental highs, so she falls into the trap of overuse of loud background score to underline emotions across the board, that further adds to the distraction. The same can be said for forcing in a lot of unwanted songs as well, none of which are anyway of the standard that Shankar Ehsaan Loy are capable of. The rest of the technical departments remain sincere and do the needful as expected from them, neither soaring nor sinking in any way.
Overall, Panga is a decent feel good experience that does create its own shares of moments, chuckles, and smiles. But given that it is an Ashwini Iyer Tiwari film, and given such a heartfelt premise of the film, it could have been so much more. Somewhere it feels that her passion this time wasn’t at the level of a Nil Battey Sannata or Bareilly ki Barfi. Somewhere her storytelling doesn’t reach the intensity of a Dangal or a Chak De India, in spite of her generously borrowing from the template of both the films. Kangana, Jassie and Yagya play their game on the Best Effort basis, just that Ashwini doesn’t give them a field as challenging and well designed to generate the Best of Panga! They stroll through some luke warm feel good lanes, but never really fly to their full potential, and that wasn’t meant to be… Sigh!
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