Panchayat: A return to the golden age of serials

While India has spawned a host of new streaming services, the global giants – Netflix and Amazon Prime – still rule the roost. But if asked to pick the best in terms of Indian content, the choice would be Amazon Prime. Why? Just go through their original content. Netflix’s India plans had them signing multi-million deals with Bollywood bigwigs like Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan and other top-line producers.

Barring the first season of Sacred Games and Made in Heaven, every other original Indian content, be it series of films, has so far been average or below par. On the flipside, Amazon has been prudent and sure-footed when it comes to desi content. Mirzapur, Four More Shots and Family Man were received with rave reviews. And then the streaming giant caught us off-guard with a series in a genre that was once considered to be buried for good after the golden era of Doordarshan.

Panchayat, from the creative team of TVF, was a welcome change from the crime-infested rural India stories that we’ve been treated to for quite some time. Shot on location, this simple fish-out-of-water tale of a city-bred young engineer Abhishek Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar) who reluctantly accepts the job of a panchayat sachiv (secretary) in a village named Phulera, far removed from Delhi. Our hero, the proverbial fish, gets a taste of the idiosyncrasies and the unique way of life in a village. In every episode, Abhishek has to find ways to cope and work along with the norms of the society that he is in.

The real panchayat president or pradhanji of Phulera is Manju Devi (Neena Gupta), but the affairs are handled by her husband Brij Bhushan Dubey (Raghubir Yadav) popolarly known as pradhan-pati (the president’s husband). Vice president or up-pradhan Prahlad (Faisal Malik) and Abhishek’s office assistant Vikas (Chandan Roy) form the rest of the cast. TVF alum Biswapati Sarkar plays Prateek, Abhishek’s friend and advisor, who has a cushy job in an MNC. Abhishek reluctantly agrees to take up the low-paid job after Prateek convinces him that he can use the quiet life in the village to prepare for CAT entrance.

Created by Deepak Kumar Mishra and written by Chandan Kumar, Panchayat has its heart in the right place and the brains too. Each self-contained episode has sachivji facing one seemingly silly yet complicated issue and solving it with the help of his oddball mates. Sample this. In the first episode, Abhishek is made to wait outside the panchayat office, which is also his accommodation, because the key to the lock is missing. And the lock in question is Manju Devi’s family heirloom and no one is ready to face the wrath of the village’s first lady, not even her husband.

Jitendra Kumar or Jitu Bhaiyya, as he is lovingly called by his fans, is the original superstar of Indian web series world. The versatile actor who is one of the original team members of TVF (The Viral Fever), the first YouTube entertainment channel in India that inspired the numerous comedy/satire channels in the country. And he is perfectly cast as the protagonist Abhishek, a flawed yet endearing character whose brusque exterior is his only way to cope up with his seemingly impossible dreams and the frustrations of his dead-end job.

Casting veteran thespians Raghubir Yadav and Neena Gupta was a masterstroke. They form such a naturally endearing couple whose squabbles and nit-picking are a cover for their loving bond. Chandan Roy and Faisal Malik are also perfect as the ever-helpful office assistant and the opportunistic yet lazy panchayat vice president.

Setting the show in an actual village is one of the best aspects of this series. The simple dialogues are witty, and the laugh out loud moments are tempered with the right amount of heartfelt emotions. Doordarshan of the 80s and 90s was the hub of such earthy material. Buniyaad, Gul Gulshan Gulfam, Yeh Jo Hain Zindagi, Nukkad, Mr Yogi, Malgudi Days, Fauji etc are just a few among the class acts on the national channel. It was an age where talented actors, writers and directors entertained audiences with stories that echoed reality. That level of quality and commitment to genuine storytelling were lost in the mega-serial era that strangled quality television for soap opera with high jinks and outlandish melodrama, no-thanks at all to Ekta Kapoor.

The arrival of web-series and streaming services has come a blessing to those who crave for quality content. And Panchayat hopefully marks the return of bygone era of greatness. Panchayat offers wholesome entertainment for the whole family and it reminds people about the quality stuff that they once got to enjoy.

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