Panga with life
When was the last Bollywood film you saw where a mother was the heroine, and sensitively portrayed? Panga is one such.
In life and in film, mothers are largely overlooked. Bollywood's mother roles have typically been roles with a capital M, weepy, sacrificing, melodramatic—Nargis Dutt in Mother India, Nirupa Roy in Deewaar, Kirron Kher in Om Shanti Om. When was the last Bollywood film you saw where a mother was the heroine, and sensitively portrayed? Panga is one such, directed with assurance by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, its tagline being "Every mother deserves a second chance." This follows the question it raises: do mothers have the right to dream?
Kangana Ranaut plays Jaya Nigam, once on the national kabaddi team, who gave it all up when she married Prashant (Jassie Gill) and had a son Adi (Yagya Bhasin), now seven. The screenplay has a conceit: Adi asks why Mama can't make a comeback? So, mama can dream if her kiddo gives permission, and hubby falls in line. Theek hai, at least someone's thinking of Mama.
Ranaut sinks her teeth into the role with relish, but the film has given Bollywood one of its more memorable women characters: Meenu (Richa Chadha), Jaya's kabaddi mate and best friend, who engineers her return to glory. She's stockily built, favours black leather jackets, her hair in a scruffy ponytail. There's a delightful scene when a boy's family comes to "see" Meenu. Suddenly, Meenu gets a kabaddi-related call and simply takes off, tossing over her shoulder: "Samosa khaiye. Khaste hain. Maine nahin banayi." (Have the samosas. They're crisp. I didn't make them.) Those seven words could change the fate of young women in India.
The film's feminism is also in such delightful throwaway lines. It is fantastic to see Bollywood women with a sense of purpose in life beyond men and marriage. Deliciously unremorseful, I say!
When Jaya moves to Kolkata for training, leaving her husband to mind their young son alone, we get the laugh-out loud post-DDLJ train leaving scene: Jaya shrieks, "Daal mein kitne seeti?" (how many pressure cooker whistles for the dal?") to her husband on the platform. The second half is a predictable heroine's journey to glory, but we root for her all the way because her triumphs are hard won, and because it is so rare to see a Prashant and Adi fully share the load. Panga is written by Nikhil Mehrotra and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari. Tiwari's debut film Nil Battey Sannata was about a single mum who studies in the same class as her daughter.
Other recent interesting mother or older women roles include Neena Gupta in the terrific Badhaai Ho, about a middle-aged mother who finds herself pregnant again. Ratna Pathak Shah in Lipstick Under My Burkha, who has a crush on the swimming coach and pleasures herself. Dimple Kapadia as an alcoholic, divorcee mother who falls for a much younger man in Dil Chahta Hai. But I'm still waiting for a full film on Mary Kom's husband K Onler Kom: this champion boxer mother's husband gave up football to back her career, become a stay-at-home dad to their three children and run the house.
Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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