After so much fuss around gangster drama’s, high-octane violence, fancy millennial stories and softporn– the Indian digital entertainment has finally made a welcoming, large hearted and enchanting detour to the roots of ‘Rural India’. Panchayat; the new show in Amazon prime is a grounded comedy on the classic template that was introduced (or rebirthed) by Swades to Bollywood. There are even exchanges between characters intertexting nods to Mohan Bhargav.
Just like how Hindi Cinema and specifically Ayushman Khurrana’s filmography started to rewire popular cinema with the kind of middle-class narratives that are straightly reminiscent to the likes of Sathyan Anthikkad-Sreenivasan comedies from the 80’s Malayalam Cinema– Panchayat too, now coming from the Hindi digital front– has an energy and earnestness akin to another class of “village comedies” from the same 80’s Malayalam specifically of Priyadarshan, Raghunath Paleri and (again) Sathyan Anthikkadu. But in addition these characters are not merely cardboard cutouts or caricatures. They have odd quirks but nowhere does this feel injected in the writing.
The adorable central couple played by the two smashing performers Neena Gupta (as Manju Devi) and Raghubir Yadav (as Pradhan Ji) are a delight to watch. They both are undoubtedly the USP of Panchayat and have a pensive entity throughout the season. Manju Devi has a prominent empowering arc and nowhere does it feel overt. The romance with her husband isn’t overt either, it’s driven by fleeting moments and delectable vignettes. Given the village’s quirky quality, it also doesn’t fall prey to the typical jealousy overriding too, they adore mutual respect.
So, the protagonist Abhishek Tripati (Jithendra Kumar does a Fahad Faasil or sorts– though that eyeplay doesn’t count, he’s pretty great) is our Mohan Bhargav on acid, who’s appointed as the secretary to the panchayat of Phulera; remote to Uttar Pradesh. An engineering graduate who is reluctant but bounded for opting this government post with a mediocre salary. He is pursuing an MBA and preparing for the CAT exam within the spare time. Panchayat in hindsight, much like Swades, progresses as a coming-of-age story. It basically maps the progress of the characters moral compass (like perceiving essences of socialising, negotiating– values of respect, alliance, tolerance– significance of water, power consumption– and finally patience to pursuit) but unlike the popular form of a privileged city boy getting a contradictory encounter to the village– this is different because Abhishek has no choice and the show is also not touted as a tourism-ad FTM, it doesn’t deliberately push for a sensory aesthetics nor a conventional entertainment in the form of preaching.
Abhishek is not projected to be a morally Superior guy to these people either. Simply put, in a typical narrative or another show— Abhishek would have been the one who insisted the idea of implanting solar-electricity to the village or the apparently empowering part in the final episode would have completely absorbed into his character arc. The beauty of Panchayat is that it’s about individual triumphs, as of now- the first season minimally bends the coming-of-age arc. Though and through the show, basic caricature-ish settings of the manifestation of harmless ego among the villagers; lands up as a blown-up hilarity in a totality.
Take the stretch of a theft happening in the 5th episode. It is quirky in an outsider worldview. The police procedural is almost a mockery– but it slowly starts to bother Tripati, it lands in a hilarious suspicion and an interrogation. But finally it does become something of substance that is truly emphatic. Simply put, there’s an emancipation of sorts in Chandan Kumar’s writing. It is unadulterated and “healthy”. Even the hardest of punches by mistress Manju Devi simulates a seamlessness. It’s because of the calibration between great characterizations and fine performances. Otherwise, the finale episode would have gone cheeky to it’s toe. But it’s done with the low-key finesse that one couldn’t resist to not fall for it’s simple magnetic quality.
Now, take another stretch where a fight breaks out with the lads from nearby villages. The proceedings get oozes like a cartoon between the village folks, but the punch lands when our protagonist is pissed. It’s a scene that’s both a pun on hot masculinity and adrenaline rush– both the repressed modern sensibilities and forthright village sensibilities. Again, the writing throughout the show doesn’t condescend or judge both of the sensibilities, here all the characters are grounded and humane.
The episodes and its dissolutions are also teeny-weeny. They are made out of wafer-thin threads. The first episode revolves around a lost key. The second is just about a solar light and the next few are much fuss caused due to a Chair, a Monitor, a slogan and a Bike. The resolvements for each episode, each conflict is smart and much simple. For an electricity crisis to solve there’s an alternative of solar lights and for that there’s another ghost episode– a sub-genre of satirical comedy with a piercing emphasis of how superstitions operate in villages. There’s a tinder unfussy chain like this happening in every of it’s events. This is a village where even a name pronouncement caused much of a witty havoc between a couple.
But it’s easy to buy these witty charades because the director and writer also encodes nuances in the relationships between each character. It stirs when the deputy Prathan says he’ll also keep part responsibility in the slogan, it strikes a happy chord when the mistress of Pradhan Ji gives him an additional rottie after he clears up a mess and it breezes when Abhishek meets with a final minute encounter with Rinky (who has a beautifully recurrent non-existent existence till that point) on the tail-end. It is also beautiful writing which subverts the eye-candy trope majestically.
Panchayat is certainly a binge-worthy show personified. A deep dive into the world of intense earnestness and performative effortlessness. There’s much love in its low-key charm. Possibly could also be the best Indian web show till date, only next to Sacred Games season one.