A Fun Ride
70%Overall Score

Abhishek Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar) is a freshly graduated young man from Delhi. Unable to find a good job in the city, he is compelled to accept the only offer he has in hand, an unattractive government posting in a small village in Uttar Pradesh. Panchayat is a comedy drama about an individual born and raised in the city, who must deal with the ordeals of life in rural India.

Director: Deepak Kumar Mishra
Writer: Chandan Kumar
Cast: Jitendra Kumar, Raghuvir Yadav, Neena Gupta, Chandan Roy, Faisal Malik
Streaming on: Amazon Prime

A city lad’s tryst with village life

Rural India seems to be a popular setting among makers of Indian web series. Amazon Prime’s Mirzapur and Netflix’s Jamtara, for instance, are two recent shows that play out in villages. While both these shows are crime dramas, Panchayat takes another path. The TVF series attempts to paint a slice-of-life picture of the ways of village life. The village is Phulera in Uttar Pradesh. At the center is Abhishek Tripathi, a big city lad who has just arrived to take up the post of secretary in the village’s gram panchayat. If it were up to him, he would never have set foot here.

The dynamics of the village are shown through Abhishek’s eyes. The place is badly governed and he must face tricky challenges in the course of his work. He’s miserable and in a bid to escape, he decides to prepare for CAT, the MBA entrance exam.

At the onset, it seems as though Abhishek will slowly warm up to the village and it’s people, and work for their welfare. But this isn’t Swades, and our man isn’t SRK’s Mohan Bhargava. Panchayat is essentially a situational comedy that packs a generous amount of gentle humour. Each episode presents a new problem that Abhishek must deal with. None of these problems, however, ever seem particularly grave or appear to be building up to something bigger. The tone remains light-hearted throughout. A wonderful ensemble cast keeps things light. There’s Neena Gupta as Manju Devi, the village pradhan or head. Raghuvir Yadav plays her husband Brij Bhushan Dubey, who governs the village on her behalf. Faisal Malik is the deputy pradhan Prahlad Pandey and Chandan Roy plays the office attendant Vikas.

Panchayat, Raghuvir Yadav, Neena Gupta
Raghuvir Yadav as Brij Bhushan Dubey and Neena Gupta as Manju Devi.

The humour largely stems from Abhishek’s struggle to cope with rural life, in particularly his differences of opinion with the villagers. On one occasion, during a wedding, he inadvertently ends up offending the groom. In another instance, he sparks a squabble between a husband and wife when he, in what is a well-meaning gesture, suggests a name for their newborn. Phulera never grows on him, and he remains sullen throughout. His misery is fuelled by a number of reasons. His salary is mediocre. His life is dull and away from family and friends. And he secretly envies his best friend who earns a lot more than him and leads a more exciting life. You sympathise with him, but there are times you feel he is needlessly obnoxious. Everyone around him is nothing but kind and gracious, but he is far too absorbed in self-pity to acknowledge it.

Some things never change in India

The creators succeed in delivering an authentic portrayal of rural life. The village folk are simple with a flair for prolonged small talk. Life here is evidently slow. Though good natured, they are often quick to take offence for the most trivial of matters. And on major occasions, they pitch in to help out, displaying a strong sense of community.

Panchayat‘s strongest suit is the way it uses humour to talk about socially relevant topics. The show touches upon topical issues such as dowry, family planning and gender equality. Though there is much to like about Phulera, the makers make no qualms about the fact that the village’s culture is deeply patriarchial. Brij Bhushan and Manju Devi are looking to get their daughter married, but she doesn’t appear to have any say in the choice of husband. Substantial coverage is given to the issue of “pradhan pati”, something that plagues a wide number of Indian villages. The government makes it mandatory for a certain number of villages to have female pradhans. In such instances, men often get their wives elected and then run the village in their names, because leading a village is not considered to be a woman’s job. The makers broach these topics in a subtle manner, without making the overall tone of the show serious.

If there’s one disappointment, it’s that Neena Gupta doesn’t get enough screen time. Gupta is delightful as the straight-talking Manju Devi. We only wish her role wasn’t restricted to worrying about getting her daughter married and roasting her husband every now and then. However, the ending indicates that her character is building up to a more prominent role in the next season.

THE UPSHOT
Led by terrific performances by the ensemble cast, the show is a socially relevant comedy that paints a vivid picture of life in rural India.