Panchayat cast: Jitendra Kumar, Raghubir Yadav and Neena Gupta
Panchayat director: Deepak Kumar Mishra
Panchayat rating: 3.5 stars
A gram-pradhan-pati whose ringtone is “Rinkiya ke papa”; an actual gram-pradhan who is illiterate but her sass could give the ‘South-Delhi Girls’ a good run for their money; and the panchayat sachiv, who has a permanent bewildered expression on his face — all this quirk and more awaits you in Panchayat, the latest offering by Amazon Prime Video presented by TVF. The show could easily have been bifurcated into two — 1) why can’t the panchayat sachiv ever catch a break 2) How the panchayat sachiv got his groove back.
Panchayat is an eight part-series set in the village of Phulera, Uttar Pradesh. Abhishek Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar) who is fresh out of college has somehow landed himself a government job, as Panchayat sachiv, which pays him Rs 20,000 a month. He goes straight from hanging out with his friends at the mall, talking about CTCs and instagramming to the dusty village of Phulera with daily power cuts and where he has to bathe in the open at the hand pump outside the panchayat office. Parallels can be drawn with Swades — where Shah Rukh Khan goes and lights a bulb in a village in India — and of course English August. But the comparisons end here, because unlike Mohan Bhargav, our Abhishek Tripathi is not riddled by noble ideas of social reform, he doesn’t want to light a bulb.
Enter Pradhanji (Yadav), who even though is not the Pradhan, runs the show. His wife Manju Devi (Gupta) is the actual Pradhan, but she has been delegated so long to the chulha-chauka that she remains a token signatory. Problems in the village range from allocation of solar lights, the naming of children, deconstructing a ghost story that emanates from a bargad ka ped on the outskirts of the village, etc etc etc — and Kumar faces baptism by fire as he tries to take them on, one by one.
It takes about two episodes to figure out what exactly is Panchayat trying to say, but once you decode that, it is quite a pleasant watch. It’s not trying to show the dark underbelly of the Indian rural setup, nor is it trying to point the inherent sexism, the skewed gender dynamics and caste hierarchy inherent to the region. It does nod at all of this, sans the chest-thumping and preaching from a pulpit and still leaves us with a happy afterthought, that all is not lost.
Panchayat incisively breaks the dual-tone presentation of the Indian small town in mainstream narratives. We are not treated to the lush fields and everyone singing and dancing – a nod to Yashraj/DDLJ — nor are we treated to a Gangs of Wassyepur throwback, where everyone has a weapon slinging from their backs. Here there is a rifle, but its usage is highly incidental. There is some rivalry, but again, its sole purpose is comic relief.
Panchayat is a game-changer for TVF, who have been doing consistent good work in the urban premise, with offerings like Permanent Roomates, Kota Factory, Tripling etc, let’s face it, they are fluent in millennial-speak. But now, they have stepped into the relative unknown, they had earlier dipped their toe in the semi-rural area with season 2 of Laakhon Main Ek. Panchayat brings a fresh perspective to the rural narrative and it works for the most part. Their attention to minute details, and ability to capture the verve of a society, which is on a cusp of change, are all there. That’s always been their calling card, and it holds true for Panchayat as well. Be it the attempt to create a selfie with his colleagues, or Jitendra chopping lauki and feeling sorry for himself, or the way he respectfully changes a youthful song to a more sedate number out of his deference to Pradhanji is quite endearing. Added to it, the bit about naming a newborn Aarav, after Akshay Kumar’s son, and a reference to Mohan Bhargav’s Swades stint, these also tick off the pop-culture references box.
Jitendra is continuing his fine form after Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan and his ‘hairan-pareshan’ expression has only gotten better. Though we wonder how long will he keep doing this underdog-needs-to-be-rescued roles. How about an assertive/out and about character? Neena Gupta looks resplendent in her ulta-palla sarees and is very much at home frying pooris and doling out sass, but wish she had more dialogues and screen time.
Though some areas need work, the accents of the lead characters are all over the place. They seemed to have picked up whatever rural accent they were comfortable with, and rolled with it. Jitendra who hails from Rajasthan, even let an ‘apan’ slip, a go-to personal pronoun rampant in the region, but it is not really heard in UP.
But in the meanwhile, while you have Zoom meetings, navigate the refrigerator, or monitor your daily chores and their division, watch Panchayat because it is heartwarming and very honest. If nothing else you will relate to Jitendra calling up his friend Prateek (Biswapati Sarkar) to rant, given our socially distanced and quarantined times. Or the fact that you also are chopping vegetables, or making the most of it by eating Maggi, just like Jitendra.