• Release Date: 03/04/2020
  • Cast: Jitendra Kumar, Raghuvir Yadav, Neena Gupta, Chandan Roy, Faisal Malik, Biswapati Sarkar
  • Directed By: Deepak Kumar Mishra

Rooted in realism and earthy splendor, Panchayat is one of the best series available on OTT right now

It’s official now. The guys at The Viral Fever (TVF) have cracked the code to the best Indian OTT content that is devoid of any shock value, gloss, glam, big stars, intrigue, and yet is as entertaining and heartwarming as some of the best Hrishikesh Mukherjee films. Last week, I watched Kota Factory and was blown away by it. I watched it in a way leading up to Panchayat, which is TVF’s latest offering and is streaming on Prime Videos. I must admit that I liked Panchayat even more. There is an unmissable sense of simplicity and affability to the series that makes it endlessly watchable. I have already watched it twice and am going to watch it a lot many times more.

Abhishek Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar) is an underachiever in terms of raw earning even though his best friend feels that he has enough brain and brawn to make it big in the job circuit. When he is unable to crack a decent job in the city, he agrees to take up the position of the Secretary at Phulera Gram Panchayat, Uttar Pradesh. The Panchayat is headed by Pradhan Manju Devi (Neena Gupta) but it is actually her husband The Pradhan Pati (Raghuvir Yadav) who takes care of all affairs and takes all the decisions. Abhishek hates Phulera to start with. On arrival, he is forced to spend the whole first day without his accommodation as the Pradhan Pati has misplaced the keys and his wife wouldn’t allow him to break the lock on the room as it was a gift from her parents. As time passes, the place starts inspiring him in strange ways that let him have a different outlook on his situation and life as a whole.

As was the case with Kota factory, Panchayat takes 8 issues out of a zillion different things that could have gone wrong in a village Panchayat and weaves 8 episodes worth of narrative around it. The 1st episode is about the protagonist arriving at the village, getting to know the principal cast of characters, and getting to finally enter his about-to-be house after much hue and cry. The 2nd Episode is about how Abhishek busts the myth surrounding a haunted tree so as to have a solar light installed right outside the Panchayat office enabling him to study peacefully at night amidst the unlimited power-cuts. The 3rd episode is about how a revolving chair influences the political dynamics of the Panchayat and how that affects the Pradhan Pati’s position of power and respect. Episode 4 is about the government directives to have slogans like “do bacche meethi khir, use jyada Bawasir” — meaning two kids are sweet but anything more than that is piles — painted on the walls of the village and how the move backfires for both Abhishek and the Pradhan Pati. In Episode 5, a computer monitor gets stolen from the Panchayat office after Abhishek leaves the door open at night as he is too drunk. The incident results in an unexpected turn of events for him as he finally gets added int the core WhatsApp group of the Panchayat trio.

Episode 6 pits Abhishek against some local ruffians who unnecessarily pick up a fight with him but end up facing his wrath. This episode introduces us to the “animal” side of Abhishek as referred to by the ruffians themselves.  In episode 7, the Pradhan Pati starts believing that if Abhishek cracks his CAT, he might just be the perfect suitor for his daughter, Rinki. The finale of the series addresses the story arc that the series was building up to from the very beginning. The actual Pradhan of the village finally takes over her rightful place from her husband who has been for so long managing her affairs. This incident, in turn, inspires Abhishek in the strangest of ways.

Panchayat is such a loveable tale that you will immediately fall in love with the story and the characters. I was amazed at the amount of detail that Deepak Kumar Mishra brought to the characters and the situations. When you are watching this series, you never for once feel that that the tale hasn’t been shot in an actual village.

Raghuvir Yadav’s Pradhan Pati got his wife elected as the rule of the hour was to have a female Pradhan in the village at that time but has never let her be the actual Pradhan. He has been heading the operation of the Panchayat ever since her election and is quite good at it. It would have been very easy to make a villain out of the man, but the director presents him as a man who might be in a position of power but is extremely real and likable. He is not at all aggressive when pitted against Manju Devi and it is, she who influences most of his decision as we see in many episodes. Pradhan Pati is also one with a heart of gold as is depicted in the sequences wherein he shows his warmth for Abhishek who is finding it difficult to cope with the village life. He even agrees to face off against the ruffians for him. In the finale, when he is brutally insulted by the District Magistrate (DM), I felt like pummeling the DM. That’s how endearing Raghuvir Yadav makes his character to the audiences.

Jitendra Kumar is fantastic yet again. He is playing a character that is a far cry from all that he has played before and he excels yet again. A lot depended on the audiences finding resonance with his issues and frustration. Kumar completely sells the point from the very first episode and you can feel for the plight of the man. There were points when I was livid with the man constantly being a cry baby about his situation and not doing anything to change it. Then I imagined what someone like me might have felt under similar circumstances and my heart wept for him. A lot depended on how well he played off the other actors and here too he does a fantastic job. His camaraderie with Raghuvir Yadav and Chandan Roy who plays his Sahayak, Vikas is organic and effective.

Speaking of Chandan Roy, He is one of my favorite characters in the series. He is the comic lifeline of the whole series and he doesn’t do anything that felt scripted. He is just a naïve and simple villager who speaks his mind at all time not thinking about the backlash. I just rolled on the floor laughing in episode 6 where he constantly inspires Abhishek to pick on the fight with the ruffians with such lines as “abhi bhi khoon na khole to khoon nahin paani hai” He is just outrageous in this episode. At the end of it when he is cornered with Abhishek by the Ruffians, he is the first one to cave in. There is a simplicity in his act that is very difficult to replicate. One must see his act to understand how well he has rendered the character and grasped its feel.

Neena Gupta’s career has seen a resurgence that would make any actor proud. Panchayat is just another superlative turn for the actress. She is not only authoritative in her performance but commands the screen every time she is on it. Raghuvir Yadav may be running the Panchayat but at home, she is the boss. She is also someone who has a clear idea about the varied situations that her husband finds himself in and more often than not, he takes her advice for it. She may not be in the series for long, but her character has a lasting impression on the proceedings.

Deepak Kumar Mishra, the man who played Raghu-Rajeev (Of Roadies) better than Raghu-Rajeev in TVF’s Rowdies takes a simple story and breathes life into it with his deft execution. He extracts some of the best performances from his ensemble cast that I have seen in a while and it all adds up in making his story come to life. He is able to hook the audiences to the characters and the story right from the beginning and gives them enough heart-warming moments to love what they are watching. There is enough simplicity, stupidity, anger, frustration, and earthly care on display and almost all of it works big time. For all this and more Panchayat is a must-watch.

Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

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