Panchayatâ€™s one-line premise; a lone urban man in an unfamiliar rural surrounding is pretty much the gist of English August by Upamanyu Chatterjee that had its uninterested public servant Agastya Sen struggle in his post as a civil servant in rural India. But perhaps since Panchayat, now streaming on Amazon Prime, is created by The Viral Fever (TVF), it tells a similar story, but replaces substance abuse and masturbation with humour and pathos in equal doses.
When he finds no other jobs and just sitting at home is too shameful, Abhishek Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar) takes up a government job as the secretary or Sachiv as the villagers call him, of the Phullera village panchayat in Uttar Pradesh. The salary is meagre, and the vagaries of village life are overwhelming.
The panchayat head on paper, thanks to a reservation policy, is Manju Devi (Neena Gupta) but Phullera is actually governed by Manjuâ€™s husband Brij Bhushan Dubey (Raghuvir Yadav). Brij takes pity on Abhishek and suggests that the young man stay with them, adding that he is of the same caste, but Manju firmly refuses, since they have a young college going daughter.
In a matter of weeks, Abhishek is at breaking point, eating gourds every day, unable to adjust to village life and driven to despair by the high-handed members of the council. His friend suggests he take the CAT exam and do his MBA to get a better job and escape his miserable situation. He asks him to hang on in Phullera convincing Abhishek that his work experience in â€śreal India, rural Indiaâ€ť will set him apart from the rest of the candidates.
Written by Chandan Kumar and directed by Deepak Kumar Mishra, Panchayatâ€™s plot blends elements from drama and sitcoms combining larger character arcs with individual incidents that Abhishek deals with at work. The politics of solar panel allocation, a family planning slogan that refers to the third child as piles and a robbery that solves itself are just some of the problems Abhishek finds himself battling while also trying to crack the CAT and stay sane.
Things move along at a nice mellow pace, and I found myself chuckling frequently, till the last two episodes where there is a sudden dip in energy levels and consequently interest levels from the viewer. This is unfortunate given how well written and heart-warming the first six episodes are. The semi episodic structure also means there is no real series high point or climax where things can come to a head. This may be responsible for the show kind of flatlining towards the end, but still, itâ€™s one of the better series I have watched this year.
Additionally, I noticed that are no strong female characters in this story apart from Manju Devi. Maybe given the location and conservative society, the makers were being authentic to the setting but itâ€™s a little unnatural to see no women on screen at all. Even Manju Devi who is a terrific character, is not integral to taking the story forward and I really wish she has a bigger part to play if there is a Season 2.
Created by TVF, this series also has all their trademark show elements. A feel-good story, crackling dialogues, wonderful old school music by Anurag Saikia, and casting that allows characters to feel like actual people and not stylised celebs playing rustic chic. While the plot is wafer thin, quite like Tripling or Permanent Roommates, itâ€™s the actors and the well written characters who bring the show to life.
Raghuvir Yadav is such a pleasure to watch and he nails the accent, body language and minute facial expressions so well, you forget itâ€™s an actor playing a part. Jitendra Kumar is forced to spend too much time looking clueless which starts getting a tad repetitive after a while. But the young actor commits completely to the slightly underwritten part that could have just become a whiny man if not played with care like he does.
The supporting cast is the real treat. Vikas (Chandan Roy) and Prahlad (Faisal Mallik) deserve special mention as the man Fridays to Abhishek and Brij respectively. Neena Gupta is the only woman of consequence in the show and though she doesnâ€™t seem as comfortable as some of her other co-stars with the accent and rural character, I loved how she never loses any opportunity to sass her husband, as if to subvert the soul crushing patriarchy of her surroundings for a few minutes every day.
What I especially enjoyed were the little touches and details that the makers add to a simple story. Farm fresh lauki (bottle gourd) that gets passed around as a token of affection or a bribe, papads roasted on a coal flame, a phone ringtone that has the characterâ€™s daughterâ€™s name in it, a WhatsApp drinking group where the code word is hi (a call between men to get high), and a groom who counts the number of sweets in a snack box and declares there are two laddoos less. There are plenty of laughs but just as many genuine moments of emotion which force you to pause and feel for the people in this quirky tale.
Go ahead and watch Panchayat, itâ€™s exactly the ray of sunshine we need in gloomy times like these.
Watch the trailer here:
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.