Director: Deepak Kumar Mishra
Writer: Chandan Kumar
Cast: Jitendra Kumar, Raghubir Yadav, Chandan Roy, Neena Gupta, Faisal Malik
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
I want to start with a disclaimer. My life as a critic has always been about film. I’ve consumed cinema and been consumed by it. Which meant that I never had the time to focus on streaming. This was obviously a major gap in my education. But the Covid-19 pandemic has given me an opportunity to rectify that. I’m learning to relish serialized storytelling. It’s an exciting new space but be warned that I haven’t seen enough to have enough context. With that said, here’s my take on Panchayat.
Panchayat is an 8-episode series on Amazon Prime. Every episode is half an hour. It’s been directed by Deepak Kumar Mishra and produced by TVF. Panchayat is the story of Abhishek Tripathi, played by Jitendra Kumar, a young graduate in New Delhi. He applies for a government job at a village panchayat as a back-up. As it turns out, that’s the only job he actually lands. Abhishek has never lived in a village before but now he ends up in Ballia district in UP. His friend encourages him, saying: yeh Swades ke Mohan Bhargav banne ka mauka hai. But Abhishek’s reality is far less exciting.
The series is about Abhishek adjusting to a life that works on a different rhythm. In the first episode, one of his colleagues wakes him up at 9 am and says dopaher ho gaya. The key to the Panchayat office where Abhishek also lives gets lost. The electricity keeps going. He’s lonely and irritable. What I liked is that there is no big drama here, no outsized conflicts. Neither is there any varnish. Most of the series has been shot on location. Deepak and Chandan Kumar who has written the series keep it authentic. The storytelling is understated but consistently funny. The dialogue is terrific and keenly observant. Lauki, the vegetable, plays a supporting role.
Each episode hinges on some small event – Abhishek buys a new chair or he goes to the local market to get his photograph taken for his CAT exam. But these seemingly trivial happenings lead to deeper insights into rural life and the principal characters, who are etched with care. Apart from Abhishek, there’s Brij Bhushan Dubey, played by Raghubir Yadav, his wife Manju Devi played by Neena Gupta, the office helper Vikas played by Chandan Roy and Prahlad Pandey, the deputy Pradhan played by Faisal Malik. The acting is first-rate. Jitendra Kumar, who is a TVF staple, anchors the show. He has a wonderful Everyman quality about him. He is also very funny when he is seething and irritable. Jitendra captures Abhishek’s anger and extreme frustration. There’s a lovely, lived-in warmth between the characters. No one hits a false note.
Panchayat isn’t about cliff-hangers. It’s not a show that you will binge-watch because you’re dying to know what happens next. This is a sleepy village and nothing earth-shattering happens. But you keep going because you are invested in these characters. I don’t know how many of you have seen a 1994 film called English, August. It was directed by Dev Benegal and starred Rahul Bose as Agastya, an IAS officer who is sent to a village. The film is all about his dislocation and alienation and how he finds escape in pot and erotic fantasies. Panchayat is the opposite of that. It’s an affectionate portrait of a life that most of us don’t know. In the last episode, Abhishek says, “iss gaon se toh pyaar hone se raha.” But that’s exactly what happens. I think you’ll enjoy Panchayat.