'Panchayat' Review: The Amazon Prime series offers an alluring sneak peek into rural India

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

During the initial days in India the web was mainly trying to target the audiences in the big cities. But all that seems to have changed in the recent times. The OTT platforms are pushing hard to capture the space in tier II and III cities through targeted content. Some examples worth mentioning are Jamtara - Sabka Number Ayega and Taj Mahal 1989. Both these Netflix shows have aggressively tried to push the Netflix bandwagon beyond the realm of the metro cities.

Amazon Prime Original series Panchayat too is a major step forward in this direction. Even though Amazon already has a show like Mirzapur in its repertoire it is with Panchayat that they can really hope to penetrate into the segment which has mostly been dominated by television over the last decade. TVF is a pioneer as far as the Indian web space is concerned and Panchayat marks their second collaboration with Amazon Prime. Now, what makes Panchayat distinct is the realistic nature of the content that it offers. And Panchayat is a natural progression for TVF which hit a new level of realism with Kota Factory. There are enough quirky and light hearted moments in Panchayat to ensure that its realism doesn't alienate an average viewer. 

The premise of Panchayat is pretty straight forward. An engineering graduate lands up with a job of a secretary at a village panchayat in Uttar Pradesh. And so unlike his best friend who has a corporate job with a fat paycheck he is left with just two options. Either he can sit at home jobless or he can take up the challenge and begin his professional journey in the Hindi heartland. When he is unable to make his mind he makes his best friend makes the choice for him. "This is the age for adventure. Go and explore rural India. The real India," his best friend tells him assertively. 

Panchayat offers an alluring sneak peek into rural India. The simplicity of village folk and how it ends up creating unnecessary complications in the life of the protagonist is a recurring motif in the series. Take, for example, the episode revolving around the solar light installation and the haunted tree. Here, the protagonist must figure out a way to prove that the tree is not haunted after all in order to get the solar light installed outside the panchayat office instead of the dark alley surrounding the tree. Similarly, there is an episode wherein the villagers are offended by the slogan about birth control. In yet another episode a villager ends up stealing a monitor from the village panchayat office mistaking it to be a television set. 

Panchayat benefits from some clever writing and brilliant performances. Jitendra Kumar is certainly proving himself with each new performance. There is undoubtedly something very special about him. He makes it look so effortless; whether playing a teacher in Kota Factory, a gay man in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, or a panchayat secretary in Panchayat. He really has come a long way from his TVF Pitchers days. In Panchayat, Jitendra finds himself in the company of Raghubir Yadav and Neena Gupta. And together the trio creates magic. They are well supported by Chandan Roy, Faisal Malik, and Biswapati Sarkar. Vishwanath Chatterjee and Aasif Khan are brilliant in their cameos as the police inspector and the groom, respectively. Panchayat doesn't have a dull moment. Also, its social commentary is quite relevant. But it does so without ever being preachy. Not since Malgudi Days has any show explored the spirit of rural India so well.

Rating: 8/10

A version of this review was first published in The Sunday Guardian.

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