Young mothers are not very popular in Hindi movies. Sexual availability is such a powerful part of the allure of women on screen and motherhood is somewhat of a dampener. So when a movie like Tumhari Sulu or Panga comes along, the impulse to embrace it is automatic. In Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s film on second chances, Kangana Ranaut shines as Jaya Nigam aka Mummy, a kabaddi player who has had to give up playing for India because well, when your child falls ill, the default option is the mother has to give up everything else in her life.
The sport may be unusual but the response is common. Across India, there are thousands of women who have put their dreams on hold for the sake of their families, their husbands, their children. Kangana’s triumph is in making one such mummy come alive onscreen in her vulnerability and her strength. Each relationship is beautifully etched out and so are the emotions. The sweet-natured support of her husband, the alertness of her son, the loving quarrels with her mother (as always an outstanding Neena Gupta) and the calm aggression of her kabaddi coach, Richa Chaddha.
Kangana’s performance has a sweetness to it which captures the can-do and get-go spirit of small-town India, where possibilities are finally opening up to meet the tremendous untapped potential. Jaya Nigam is a woman who learnt briefly to soar before being grounded by circumstances but Kangana brings a cheery, weary surrender to it, rather than bitterness and rage.
Millions of women find a way to live with disappointments but a movie like Panga is important because it shows them that a way out is possible. You just have to ensure the people around you understand you. The film trade calls these “progressive women’s stories” but they are more than that: they shine the light on the invisible and bring hope to many others. It is as delightful as it is inspiring.