It has only been almost two months since the Mishras of Gullak TVF broadcast took us to the heart of small Indian towns and their bittersweet struggles and victories. Relatable and real, the series has successfully walked a tightrope between what is personal and universal for the fourth consecutive season. Now, another masterful presentation from TVF, Panchayat Season Two, streaming on Amazon Prime Video, delivers dollops of lived-in moments and a heartwarming experience that is sure to stick with audiences long after they watch it.
The same village, the same actors and the same musical theme, but nothing monotonous – that’s the beauty of Panchayats 2. You become emotionally invested in the lives of the villagers, Phulera, as you were in the first season. And, there are enough laughs along the way.
Panchayat’s first season, with eight episodes, focused on Abhishek Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar), fresh out of college. His government work brings him to a small village in Uttar Pradesh, Phulera, as Panchayat Sachiv. The city dweller struggles to settle in a village with its drastic change of pace, its power cuts and a different socio-economic reality. He focuses his attention on passing the CAT exam so he can flee Phulera. In his journey, he is joined by Pradhanji (Raghubir Yadav), his wife Manju Devi (Neena Gupta), who is the real pradhan, gram sevak Vikas (Chandan Roy) and up-pradhan Prahlad (Faisal Malik). All together make his life easier, and in the eighth episode, Abhishek finally settles in Phulera.
Cut to season two, where in the opening scenes, Abhishek smiles while putting Phulera workers to work, clearly hinting that he is acclimating to village life. With an exquisite handling of the story, the subtle handling of the lives of the people of Phulera by writer Chandan Kumar and director Deepak Kumar Mishra greatly propels the lived-in feel of the show.
In one instance, when his guests insist that Pradhan Ji (Yadav) also eat dessert at his daughter Rinky’s birthday party, he replies: “Abhi toh bohot bachaa hai, hum toh subah bhi ye hi khayenge (there is a lot left, I will have to eat it in the morning too)”. It reminded me of times when I had to eat leftover food from a house party until it was gone or expired. Another hilarious and relatable moment is when one of the characters sits down on his scooter to immediately jump off as the scorching sun turns him into a pot. How can you not find your way around living in the 49 degree temperature of Delhi?
The creators of Panchayat 2 projected the Indian outback like nothing we are used to seeing on screen. It’s not Mirzapur with its guns and gangs, neither are you greeted by our hero and heroine dance sarso ke khet. Instead, it’s a village dealing with pertinent issues like open defecation, alcohol addiction and installing CCTV, but with a dash of humor.
Spearheading these issues is Abhishek, who has no intention of making big changes in the village, but is only bound by duty and does not want to be reprimanded by his elder. He only looks into the issue of open defecation when he is alerted to a “surprise” inspection. This typical administrative approach of a government employee is not new to Indians. Jitendra Kumar as Abhishek is brilliant. It depicts the frustration of a young aspirant stuck in the wrong place and the concerns of a kind-hearted human, in equal amounts. Kudos to the creators for not giving us a ‘aadarshwaadi‘government official, because we don’t usually have one.
Besides Jitendra, the entire cast including actors Chandan Roy, Faisal Malik, Sunita Rajwar, Durgesh Kumar and Shrikant Verma took a well-written, clean and simple yet charming script to the next level with their towering performances.
Among them, the real scene stealer is Manju Devi, played by a perfectly cast Neena Gupta. Although she is the pradhane of the village, she is happy to meet her to-do list as a housewife. Her husband Brij Bhushan Dubey (Yadav, another actor par excellence) is here the factor Pradhan. But that doesn’t mean she’s incapable of carrying out her official duties or just following her husband’s every order.
It’s fascinating to watch how she does what she thinks is right, whether it’s finding a groom for her daughter or negotiating the price of mud as the village pradhan. At one point, she even tells Brij Bhushan’s friend, who has come home, to pick up the plate he ate from and put it away. She is not even afraid of the ruthless deputy who insults her husband and relatives and shows her his place in his inimitable style. It’s good to see Gupta get more screen time this season because she brings so much rawness and nuance to her performance.
The only hiccup comes when the narrative meanders to a tragedy-stricken Prahlad in the final episode. But it can go unnoticed by the nurturing experiences the show gives us to cherish. The strength of Panchayat 2 is that it never takes itself too seriously and slips effortlessly into situational comedy.