Panchayat - it takes a village

Panchayat, the new series whose 8-episode season 1 premiered on Amazon Prime last month, is a quiet gem of a show. In an Indian streaming landscape dominated by shows trying desperately to take advantage of the new-found freedoms from censorship, and thus gratuitously piling on adult language and content, Panchayat comes as a breath of fresh air (though there is one hilarious reference to a certain bodily orifice, translated to the vernacular). It harks back to the golden era of 1980s DD TV, before Ekta Kapoor and her ilk destroyed it with their saas bahu and naagin drivel, when shows like Malgudi Days, Wagle ki Duniya and Mungerilal ke Haseen Sapne captured that je ne sais quoi of the Indian Everyman milieu. Its wry humor and laugh out loud moments emanate from the rhythms and problems of everyday life of its characters, their language and attitude, and their gruff but ill-disguised affection for each other.

Created by the YouTube web series pioneers TVF (The Viral Fever, an unfortunate name to have in this Corona age😊 ), who brought us Permanent Roommates, Pitchers, Tripling, Kota Factory and many more shows that your kids are binge watching, Panchayat stars TVF favorite Jitendra "Jeetu" Kumar (he is their resident Amol Palekar, burst on the scene with his spot-on Arvind Kejriwal impersonations on their Qtiyapa series, stars in their hilarious Tech Conversations with Dad series alongside Gajraj Rao, and recently had his Hindi movie breakout role in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan), as Abhishek "Abhisek" Tripathi.

An engineering graduate (are there any other in India?), with bleak corporate employment prospects, he takes a job as a gram panchayat secretary in a village called Phulera in Uttar Pradesh. This start to the series, neatly turns the recent paradigm, of small town folks going to the big city, on its head. His big city friend, played by Biswapati Sarkar, (another TVF regular, who absolutely skewered Arnab Goswami's bombast in their Qtiyapa megahit, Bollywood Aam Aadmi Party), is a stand-in for us city folk in the audience who have a romanticized vision of rural India a la SRK's Mohan Bhargava in Swades (2004).

Neena Gupta, who is enjoying a mini renaissance since Badhaai Ho, is the titular head pradhan of the panchayat, but her husband played by Raghuvir Yadav of Mungerilal fame, is the real wielder of power as the self-styled pradhan pati. These two stalwarts with crackling chemistry, are very ably supported by Chandan Roy who plays the well-meaning assistant Vikas teaching Abhishek the ways of rural India, and Faisal Malik as the goofy but endearing deputy pradhan Prahlad Pandey.

Panchayat doesn't hit you on the head with any preachy messages or loud over-the-top caricatures or episodic cliffhangers. To an audience used to today's fast-paced, multi-tasking, short attention span ADHD lifestyle and entertainment (like my previously reviewed Netflix original movie Guilty), it is a nice change of pace and rewards their patience with its low key charms. Authentically written and shot, this Panchayat is well-governed by a spirit of bonhomie that will leave you with a smile.

April 11, 2020

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