Pankaj, the second most important character of the Amazon Prime show Pushpavalli, owns a children’s library. Even though everyone else calls it a creche, he insists that it’s a children’s library. Surely, running a children’s library is better than running a creche. Or manlier. Pankaj is not a sexist; in fact, in some matters he can be surprisingly progressive, maybe a little too progressive—if there’s such a thing. He once tried to explain a 6-year-old what a uterus is, after he found of a used sanitary pad in the washroom and came complaining about it (‘If it were up to me, all the princesses in all the fairytales would have periods all the time’). But he is also someone who makes fun of men who wear ankle-length socks because it is less macho—although he doesn’t say it in those many words. As if an antithesis of the NGO founder character in Better Life Foundation–also played by stand up comic Naveen Richard–he is always angry. That’s his default mode.
Naturally, a children’s library is the perfect setting for a dark comedy about a female stalker–the titular character played by Sumukhi Suresh, a fellow comedian and the creator of the show. Pushpavalli, master manipulator and liar extraordinaire, moves cities to Bangalore for an out-of-league guy called Nikhil (Manish Anand). As a part of her grand plan, she gets a job at the library, which is on the same street as Nikhil’s office. Did I mention that Pankaj and Pushpavalli went to school together?
He is at his creative best with insults when they are directed at Pushpavalli—and they really know no limits. In the new season, he calls her an ‘unloved orphan’; ‘My father is dead’, Pushpavalli reminds him; ‘Still one to go,’ he says.
Watching Pankaj yell at Pushpavalli is insane fun. That look on his face, when he is trying to contain his anger but is about to lose his shit is priceless. There are times you may think that he is in a good mood, making innocuous seeming small talk such as the flavour of ice cream he had with a date the previous night. But if you really know Pankaj, you know that he’s just buying himself some time so he can come up with his next insult–and that the ice cream flavour will be revealed to be Mind your own fucking business. He is at his creative best when the insults are directed at Pushpavalli—and they really know no limits. In the new season, he calls her an ‘unloved orphan’; ‘My father is dead’, Pushpavalli reminds him; ‘Still one to go,’ he says.
He is terrible with kids, obviously. ‘You want to get eaten up by a Komodo dragon man?’ he tells a kid in a reptile workshop in season 2. In season 1, he snatched away a cream bun from one of the kids and gave him a crash course on it while wolfing it down. ‘Some people say that Iyengar’s is better than the Mallu place, but it all comes down to how fresh the cream is, you know,’ he says. (There’s a separate piece to be written on how the show uses the cultural peculiarities of Bangalore). Pankaj’s words don’t flow so well when he is in a situation where he has to speak in Hindi. It’s a Richard specialty—seen in Better Life Foundation as well—who uses his Tamil-accented Hindi to hilarious effect.
With his printed shirts—that keep changing from pugs to pelicans to pigs—and exaggerated anger issues, Pankaj is more a creature of sitcom than someone you may know (his temper may remind Seinfeld fans of George Costanza, who was also the titular character’s best friend). But every now and then, Pushpavalli reveals what lies beneath Pankaj’s cartoonish exterior, his anger a defence mechanism to hide feelings of inadequacy and some old hurt. As in the first episode of season 2, when Pankaj calls Pushpavalli’s mother ‘Mummy’ instead of ‘Aunty’ by mistake. Or what a spectacular mess he is every time Swati (Preetika Chawla)—an attractive single mother of one of the kids in the library who has a penchant for words like ‘rambunctious’ and ‘canoodling’—talks to him.
We don’t know much about Pankaj’s background, who his parents are, whether he has any other friends apart from Pushpavalli, for who he shows father-figure like concern, despite all the manipulation and lying. (“Pankaj is a great mirror to how the audience feels about Pushpavalli. You care, but you’re so irritated by her,” the show’s director, Debbie Rao, said of the character). But we come to know that in school, he was called Upma boy, Gandu Ponda and Chutiya Chutney, and we know that he left school in 8th standard. Did one lead to the other? He gets a new nickname in Season 2. Swati, with who he is getting closer, likes calling him Kaju. Pankaj hates the cutesiness of it.
Something happens in the end of season 2, something that only confirms how the character’s specialness to the show. I won’t reveal what, but an interesting turn awaits Pushpavalli in season 3–that is if there is a season 3. Regardless, someone make that Greatest Hits Package already.