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Panchayat Is A Quaint, Warm & Relatable Look At Rural Life

Panchayat(Amazon Prime  Video, 8 Episodes)

Starring Jitendra Kumar, Chandan Roy,  Neena  Gupta, Raghuvir Yadav

Directed by  Deepak Kumar Mishra

Rating: *** ½

This one  knows.Just knows.  Panchayat is  an insider’s job. Its  director(Deepak Kumar Mishra), writer(Chandan  Kumar) and the  actors, in big and small roles, they all know the rural milieu first-hand. Which explains why  it all appears  so real, so  lived-in and  so smartly unsophisticated.

Panchayat comes  from the team that  made Jitendra  Kumar a web-star with Kota Factory. This time Kumar is cast as  a employable  but rather  bleakly-positioned  workingclass Indian who has  no choice  but to take  up a job as a secretary  in a village panchayat in Uttar Pradesh. As  Abhishek Tripathy, Jitendra  brings in his  trademark laconicism and a smirking  disdain for administrative  and moral  strictures.

Sensibly,  the  8 episodes can be seen  as independent stories,  vigorous  vignettes from an almost lifeless existence in a UP village named  Phulera. Shot on  location I could almost smell the  stench  of deathly stillness and ennui. Not all of Abhishek Tripathy’s   “adventures”(if one may use the word to describe the  rather humdrum incidents that are  perked  up by some  insightful writing) are  uniformly workable and some of  them, like the one where he takes on a couple  of goondas from the locality for a  fistfight in  a maidaan as barren as  the life of  the villagers, just don’t  build up into  something substantial.

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After a point , the  cruel insubstantiality  of  the lives being described  in the series, begins to get  to you. There is  no hope of  a better tomorrow for  villages such as  Phulera . What  keeps the episodes  from sagging under the weight  of its own despair  is  the sheer  brightness of the characters . These are  not people who are aware of the futility of their  existence . In fact they are proud of  it.

At one point, Abhishek’s  smiling genial assistant Vikas(Chandan  Roy, a gem  of  an actor) tells  Abhishek, “Atma-samman bhi koi cheez hoti hai.”  A quality that seems  incongruously high among these proud but  rudderless products of  an irredeemable  wasteland

Panchayat is  high  on credibility and  intelligent  insightful writing. But  be warned . Neena Gupta’s role is  dismayingly under-developed. We  hardly meet this woman of substance who is the rubberstamp head  of  the  village  panchayat while  her husband(Raghuvir Yadav, who takes to the rural life like  fish to water) rules. Neena  has only one  episode to herself and that’s the  final episode  where the actor and  her character come into their  own . This is   by far the  the  best episode  of  the  series.

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The rest? They are teasing,heartwarming  scenes  from a rural life that is rapidly vanishing  from the  cinematic radar.Hold on  to it.

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