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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari on Panga & Changing ‘Female Centric’ Dynamic in Bollywood

From economics to advertising to feature films, it has definitely been an eventful journey for Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari. 

She has emerged amongst the finest filmmakers in Indian cinema. Whether it’s Nil Battey Sannata or Bareilly Ki Barfi, Tiwari’s stories present woman empowerment and exude the power of small towns in India.

Given her on-going pursuit of uplifting narratives, her forthcoming movie Panga also revolves around self-love and hope.

Headlined by Kangana Ranaut as Jaya, it chronicles her life as a national level Kabbadi player from India.

It follows her triumphs, struggles and overcoming of stereotypes, reflecting upon the importance of love and family support in order to become successful.

In a special interview, Ashwiny speaks to Filme Shilmy about her upcoming film Panga and presenting content-driven films in Bollywood.

We’ve had many sports-oriented films in Hindi cinema. How come you chose the backdrop of Kabaddi?

Kabaddi is the oldest game in India and still, it’s not in the focus at all. But thanks to the Star networks, we have Pro-Kabaddi league and that’s how the sport has come recently into the picture.

It’s a very interesting game because you don’t need a particular body type – it even has less expensive gear, where even women in saris can play it during festivals.

Ask anyone who has lived or grown up in India, they have played Kabaddi at least once in their lifetime.

So it is equally important to revive our game because I want my children to know what Kabaddi is all about.

They’re in this zone of football and baseball right now… Too much influence from western games (laughs).

I really like inherent sports such as Kabaddi… It needs to be looked after.

You’ve always chosen strong female leads to headline a film. Is this what prompted you to select Kangana Ranaut for Panga?

Like others, this too seems like a slice-of-life film but it’s actually really difficult to keep things simple.

To get so many layers in a character, the audience is always going to judge me by saying “realistically, we don’t do something like this”.

So that is something I have to be very careful about. Thus, I have to get that intrinsic, cinematic quality but simple portrayal.

It was a mother’s role and like all characters, this also has layers of emotions.

Kangana is an amazing actor and she gets into the characteristics so beautifully that after some time you forget that she is ‘Kangana Ranaut’ the actor.

One simply views her as Jaya – a person you’ve probably encountered at some point in life. So that’s why Kangana was on board.

On a chat show, Kangana eventually became convinced that this was your story… Why is that?

I feel every storyteller has its own way of narrating in which every story has some part of their life connected to it.

Maybe a part of me is in the film because I reflected on my experiences and put it in writing, which is why it comes across as realistic.

In fact, some instances are from my actual life. I feel Panga is about every Jaya and Prashant (played by Jassi Gill) in this country at various levels.

Regardless of how progressive or rich an individual is, at the base level, there is a Jaya in every household.

For me, maybe it’s because I am a mother and I’ve experienced my life around sisters and family… The decision of having children in today’s day and age is a big decision.

These are all youngsters (in their mid to late 20s) who are still discussing on how important to be a mother now because they’ve seen their mothers whilst growing up.

In your works, you seem to follow the template of a woman beyond societal paradigms guiding another, who is trying to rise above conventions. Why do you incorporate this?

I feel that the energies of each character need to feed with each other. I say that because when you see the film, it’s almost like you observing to real people on screen.

It is important that you always have two different ways of thinking because that’s when debates can happen.

In terms of getting Richa and Kangana (these two friends in the film together), it’s about two opposite people attract to each other… Which works in real life too.

Their relationship is not like friends who would speak to each other every day… Not a candy friendship. But a bond of strength and positivity.

How both these characters interact with each other is also very interesting because they don’t think alike.

Also, I like having flawed characters. No one is perfect in real life. It is important to accept ourselves and say “this is what it is.”

How far away is Bollywood from omitting the prefix of ‘female-centric’ cinema?

It’s nice to see that more stories from the perspective of women are emerging and it’s wonderful that award ceremonies are also appreciating these.

However, audiences do not view cinema as male or female-centric. It’s largely objectified by the media or how marketing conceives it to be.

Audience walking into the cinema only view the film for what it is. We never address a film with several males a ‘male-centric’ movie… So we have to change that word.

Stories are stories and this is something we need to learn from Hollywood. They’ve presented so many stories but have not really bracketed them by gender.

So in what way can we change this?

It’s about how we address it in the media and describes it in public. We should exchange the dialogue of just call stories as stories.

The audience doesn’t watch a film because of gender, but by what attracts them. Is it the narrative? or actors?

Whatever the reason, they come for that.

The film’s title holds a motivational significance rather than it carrying negative connotations. What has been your biggest ‘Panga’ in life and why?

Choosing to do what I want to do in life after having children. When I decided to get into directing films, they were 3-years-old.

I had absolutely no idea about Bollywood or features, hence I decided to do this after pursuing a career in advertising.

Another ‘Panga’ I have is to do more and more. If the world says you cannot do it… Then go ahead and do it. That has always been my motto.

So the title’s definition (as you pointed out), is not just about ‘fighting’ per se, but overcoming the thoughts in our head and hurdles in our life.

These thoughts can be the greatest villains in our stories and we need to take ‘Panga’ with that!

Listen to the interview podcast with Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari here:


For everyone waiting for their hidden hope to shine again. It’s time for Panga.

The film releases worldwide on 24th January 2020 by Fox Star Hindi.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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