Panchayat - Bringing back a lost world

The year was 2020. The world was under the vicious grip of the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic. Confined to home, it was a time when a large section of Indians discovered the joy of OTT or streaming content. One day, I happened to notice a new OTT series releasing on Amazon Prime, called Panchayat. The makers, The Viral Factory (TVF), were not unknown to me as an audience. Some of their works like Kota Factory, Pitchers, Cubicles to name a few had left me quite impressed so a new content from them certainly spiked my interest. But over and above that, what further intrigued me was the premise – an urban man’s struggle to fit into a rural or unfamiliar milieu. It was a scenario not unfamiliar to me. The great Bengali filmmakers Satyajit Ray (Postmaster) and Mrinal Sen (Bhuvan Shome) had both created seminal works around this theme.

Thus I entered the world of Phulera gaon with Abhishek Tripathi a.k.a Sachivji (the lead played by Jitendra Kumar) and now, four years and 3 seasons later, I can confess that with respect to Panchayat, my hunch or gut feel did not let me down. At a time when Indian OTT / streaming space was increasingly getting saturated with crime, violence and sex, Panchayat came as a breath of fresh air. The simple world of an Indian village, the emotional bonds between characters not bound by blood and a pervasive sense of deep affection lined the show that quickly became a favorite of audiences across the country. At a time when the world was under siege and the stench of death hung in the air permanently, Panchayat worked as the perfect palette cleanser, bringing a feel-good sensation in our lives.

As the time has passed, Panchayat’s fan following has continued to grow and acquired a cult-like status now, dominating the world of memes and insta-reels. If I were try to point out what has worked so well, few things do stand out:

• The continuous evolution: While season 1 of Panchayat was near universally loved, one criticism that did come across was that the show presented a near utopian reality. It is a village where peace prevails, conflicts are resolved amicably and people go out of their way to help others, even strangers. While these are certainly true to a large extent for India’s villages, yet in reality, they are not as idyllic as Panchayat would have you believe. The makers of Panchayat certainly paid heed to such feedback as season 2 introduced us with the first thorn in the rose bush in the form of Bhushan a.k.a Ban-rakkas. Portrayed brilliantly by Durgesh Kumar, Bhushan is a cynical and caustic man yet someone who does speak the uncomfortable truth at times. His entry immediately spoils the idyllic set-up and the same is further destroyed by the arrival of the big bad of the series – the rude, uncouth and opportunistic local MLA who immediately has a fall out with the good guys. Season 3 has continued to build on it as Bhushan’s ambition to grab the post of panchayat pradhan for his wife and the MLA’s desire for revenge has slowly turned into a blood feud with Sachiv, Pradhan ji and the gang. By the time season 3 comes to a close, Panchayat almost looked like a watered down version of Gangs of Wasseypur. Releasing at the time of elections, I felt it was also a stark message on how an idyllic and peaceful existence can be left in tatters by political ambitions and greed.

• The emotions: The biggest hook for Panchayat and success for its makers is the amazing emotional connection they were able to establish with audiences. From the moment Sachiv arrives in Phulera, he becomes the underdog champion of the people watching him as we all egg him on towards successfully settling in this alien environment. The near parental care shown for him by the Pradhan couple and the warm friendship of Vikas and Prahlad chacha seem so genuine – a rarity in today’s times. When Pradhan stands up for Sachiv after the theft of a LCD screen, when he comes over to check on the latter’s MBA preparations and above all, when the other 3 make him a member of the gang by inviting him to their secret codeword (Hi!) and hideout, we all silently cheer. The deep emotional play has continued in the subsequent seasons with some standout ones being Sachiv’s brief exchange of words with a dancing girl in season 2, Prahlad’s affection for Vikas and his wife in season 3 and scenes involving Prahlad and Jagmohan’s Amma, also in the just released season. But the biggest emotional punch was reserved for the finale of season 2 which hits us like a bolt from the blue as the happy world of Phulera is taken over by a momentous tragedy of the loss of a loved one and turns possibly the most happy go lucky character of the series into a man who has lost his smile.

• The performances: Although all artists of the series deliver worthy performances, the one who really shines brightest is Faisal Malik as Prahlad (or Prahlad ‘cha as Vikas calls him). Starting out as one of the gang, Malik comes into his own in season 2 and completely steals the show in season 3. His line “Samay se pehle koi nehi jaayega. Koi nehi matlab koi nehi!” would have drawn a tear from the hardest hearts. Durgesh Kumar as Bhushan and Chandan Roy as Vikas are both brilliant and evoke quite opposite emotions. A small character in screen time that really shines is Vinod. An innocent simpleton, his corruption at the hands of Bhushan in season 3 truly breaks the heart.

• The nostalgia: It may be just me but somewhere, I felt Panchayat is able to create the same sensations as we used to get from watching Doordarshan once upon a time. The simplicity, the emotional connect, the well-layered characterizations, the reflection of everyday problems and their resolution – all hark back to the glory days of the national TV channel in the 1980s. We all love to look back to the days gone by through sepia tinted glasses, and despite being set in today’s times, somewhere Panchayat does play beautifully on the nostalgia of the past.

As a series, Panchayat is not perfect but it hits the audiences’ sweet spot near perfectly and every season leaves them hankering for more. Season 3 certainly ends on a real cliffhanger with our beloved motley crew and their nemesis both falling foul of the law. Can’t wait for the next season!

Based out of Kolkata, Trinanjan is a market researcher by profession with a keen interest in Indian history. Of particular interest to him is the history of Kolkata and the Bengal region. He loves to write about his passion on his blog and also on social media handles. 

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