Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari on Panga: It is not a sports drama or a biopic, but a human story of real and relatable people
Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari's next film Panga stars Kangan Ranaut, Jassie Gill, Richa Chadha, and Neena Gupta in pivotal roles.
Simple and unassuming, Bareilly Ki Barfi director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari likes to stay away from glamour. And when Ashwiny says that had she not become a director she would have become a psychologist, or an anthropologist, you believe her because you can have an endless chat with her on human race, its culture, society and human behaviour.
In fact, while prepping up for her upcoming film, Kangana Ranaut-starrer Panga (releases on 24 January) that has kabaddi, one of the most popular sports in India as the backdrop, she watched many wildlife films as she found a common element between the behaviour of wild animals on a lookout for prey to that of the kabaddi players.
“I believe that this sport kabaddi is like a jungle where a lioness or tigress when she goes out to hunt she will make sure that she protects herself and her cubs as she pounces on her prey. Kabaddi is that kind of a sport. I saw many wildlife documentaries as my research for this film. I wanted to see how animals pounce for their prey. It is a lot about agility, and similarly kabaddi is a group game and not individualistic,” says Ashwiny.
Panga talks about the triumphs through tribulations of a kabaddi player, who decides to come back to playing the sport after marriage and motherhood when in her thirties and live her dream of representing the country. However, Ashwiny calls Panga a slice-of-life film rather a sports drama.
“Panga is not a sports drama in its purest form. It is a human story and just like the characters in my previous films they are all real and relatable people. It isn’t a biopic or based on any real person. It’s a very universal idea. It was very important for me to tell this story in the era of co-parenting and supporting each other. Today, we have both, husband and wife distributing work. It’s about co-existing and helping each other. There are hundreds and thousands of ‘Prashants’ and ‘Jayas’ (characters played by Jassi Gill and Kangana) in the country. It is a universal idea,” says Ashwiny.
“Talking about my own life, these days Nitesh (Tiwari, Ashwiny’s filmmaker husband) has been taking care of our children, whereas, I stayed at home when he was busy with Chhichhore,” she added.
Initially, when Panga was offered to her, Ashwiny, for a moment thought about the comparisons that would be made between her and Nitesh's highest grossing sports film Dangal. “But I took up the challenge. But the genres and story-telling of the two films is very different. Here, in Panga, we are talking about family relationships. I didn’t want to do a typical sports film,” she says.
“When I was approached for the film I was told that it will be a big challenge to make a film on women kabaddi players and that nobody has explored this sport. But I felt that we need to think of a bigger idea and go beyond the sport. We researched and realised that a lot of women have left their respective professions and jobs after marriage and children. So many women in my own family have left their jobs after having kids. I wanted to talk about this and I wanted my story to be relevant with the time and age of this generation,” said Ashwiny.
The director always had Kangana in mind to play the main protagonist. “I went to her with just one-liner. Kangana also has a good understanding of picking up scripts which she knows she needs to talk about. She trusted me. She knows my story-telling, she has seen my movies and it was a straight yes from her,” said Ashwiny, who never cared about controversies surrounding the actress, or about people warning her to not cast Kangana.
“Look, I make my own opinions, it's not based on other people’s judgment. My relationship is purely based on trust and transparency. Kangana is well-versed in her craft and she respects people like that. We are both good with planning and we really got along very well. We are very transparent and honest with each other. Whenever she did value addition, and if good, I would use it,” added Ashwiny.
Known for heart-warming stories from the heartland, like Nil Battey Sannata and Bareilly Ki Barfi, which became one of the biggest success stories of 2017, Ashwiny recalls how during an awards function she was addressed as the pioneer in heartland stories, “and it was followed by a lot of such stories”. “I feel love stories, action and drama..there can be hundreds of stories in these genres, it is not about what you say but it is about how you say it. We have been aping the west, copying Hollywood but now we are unapologetically Indian. We want to make our own films, so we are not scared or shying away from telling our stories to the world and to lot of Indians outside our country. That is what makes us progressive. Which other nation has the highest number of stories in every corner of the country? We are not about big cities and sky-scrapers, we are about open doors with so many languages and culture. If we don’t talk about our little little stories then who would?” says Ashwiny.
As compared to her previous two outings, Panga has been her most difficult film, she says. “It’s because we shot in multiple locations and it has also taken long because I had to give many schedule breaks. My biggest fear was what if any of my kabaddi player, or Kangana, Richa (Chadha), or any of the other actors who practised kabaddi broke their leg. I couldn’t afford to keep pushing my shoot forever. Hence, I always gave 20 days to one month break to make sure that they were fine after practicing the sport and were fit to come on the set. So, planning took about nine months. Then, I shot in about six locations, six different cities with so many different weather conditions with lot of crew members and even international kabaddi players. Mumbai rains further led to stalling of shoots,” she added.
For Ashwiny, the biggest pressure is to outshine herself from her previous work, and her next is a biopic on the lives of Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy and his wife Sudha Murty. The film is at the writing stage.
“It is a completely different genre from Panga. I am a big fan of Sudha Murty. If I had to lead a life it should be like hers. There is a lot of simplicity and humbleness. She is so grounded and still so talented. At the same time she wants to learn so much. Narayana Murthy is a pioneer and he is someone who wants India to be the best in the world. I am honoured. I am filled with humble gratitude to make this film. They have trusted me with their iconic story and I can only pray that I live up to their expectations. This is more than a film.We are still writing and it will take a little while because there are so many stalwarts involved in the characters. It’s also so exciting to meet some of the legendary personalities for interviews and research,” said Ashwiny, who enjoys “reading people” and “mixed minds” rather than attending parties.
“I like to stay away from glamour. We don’t like to party after hours. We’d rather go home and live away from the limelight. Living away keeps us grounded. I don’t watch too many movies but I read a lot. I want to keep studying. After Panga is out I will go for some course for 10 to 15 days. If not movie maker I would have become a psychologist or an anthropologist. I like reading people, I enjoy mixed minds. It is so nice to live life where I can meet people from different walks of life. I want to study till the time I die,” she signs off.
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