Panchayat season 2 review: Jitendra Kumar, Neena Gupta return with a humorous story from the heartland

Panchayat season 2 review: Jitendra Kumar, Neena Gupta return with a humorous story from the heartland

Panchayat season 2 review: Jitendra Kumar, Neena Gupta return with a humorous story from the heartland

Language: Hindi

The Viral Fever (TVF) currently has two much-loved comedies in the streaming world — Gullak on SonyLiv and Panchayat on Amazon Prime Video. Where Gullak is an essentially genteel comedy about middle-class lives in an unspecified Hindi-speaking small town, Panchayat is set in the fictional village of Phulera (in the real-world Ballia district of Uttar Pradesh) and is more of a dramedy. The comic beats are balanced by a contemplative mode wherein the show, led by its stellar main cast of Jitendra Kumar, Raghubir Yadav and Neena Gupta, offers its two bits on some of rural India’s decades-old issues — gaps in education, sanitation, infrastructure and so on. 

Panchayat’s eight-episode second season, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, confirms and builds upon the stellar reputation enjoyed by the first. Young Abhishek Tripathi’s (Kumar) dreams, aspirations and life lessons are as compelling as ever and his chemistry with his boss Brij Bhushan Dubey (Yadav), the de facto pradhan of Phulera, remains formidable. Neena Gupta is similarly excellent as Dubey’s wife Manju Devi, the on-paper pradhan who begins to take a more hands-on role in village administration this season onwards (while also trying to get her daughter Rinky married to a suitable boy from Delhi). The second season gives her more to do this time and the results are wonderfully entertaining.  

Jitendra Kumar in Panchayat Season 2

One of Panchayat’s great strengths is its ability (and willingness, for this is a delicate operation) to create humour out of what are essentially studies in scarcity — for example, one stellar episode here (the third in the season) centres Phulera’s precarious status as an ODF (open-defecation-free) village. It really is a masterpiece-in-miniature, this episode and across a mere 30-odd minutes it does far more justice to this complicated and intersectional issue than Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Bollywood’s big-budget treatment of the same. Despite the village having been granted ODF status, there are still those—including Dubey himself—who do their business in the fields in the morning. Abhishek describes them as ‘shauqiya’ ie people who do this out of a sense of habit and/or whimsy, not because they are deprived of indoor plumbing.

When a political rival to Dubey snitches to the District Magistrate about this, Phulera’s ODF status comes under threat and Abhishek and co. must warn the entire village not to defecate in the fields the following morning. There’s all kinds of comedy in this episode — physical comedy, farce, satire, it’s all there and Panchayat breezes through them all.

As with the first season, a lot of narrative tension boils down to the pettiness and egocentrism of men. A rival to Dubey’s post cashes in when a Phulera resident feels slighted by the pradhan’s office. Dubey’s daughter Rinky (her name allows the writers to use the famous Bhojpuri song ‘Rinkiya Ke Papa’ as Dubey’s ringtone) is talking to her would-be-husband, a city slicker from Delhi who subtly insinuates that she is a village bumpkin. Abhishek himself hasn’t quite let go of some of his preconceived notions about rural life, although he has learnt to deal with it better. These are all basically ‘less is more’ setpieces wherein the dramatis personae are acutely aware of and even refer to the small-canvas nature of their problems. 

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It’s actually a dialogue from Gullak that sums this attitude up best: “Chhota sheher sirf naam ka chhota hota hai. Par ego? Ego bohot bada hota hai. Itna bada ki nikat bhavishya mein agar United Nations Ego Index naamak koi cheez banaaye, toh hamaara desh ajeevan top pe rahe!”  (A small town’s small in name alone. Egos are huge around here. Big enough that if United Nations were to create an ‘Ego Index’ sometime soon, our country would be perpetually on top of the list.)”

In another hilarious episode, we see Abhishek overseeing a public awareness campaign about the evils of alcohol; a jeep with loudspeakers has been arranged to do the rounds of Phulera. There’s just one small problem—the piss-drunk driver passes out after his latest binge and no amount of incentives or threats (or splashed water) will wake him up. I found this episode to be the pick of the season, arguably, and it shows off Panchayat’s effortlessly funny brand of dialogue perfectly. 

As we move through this second season, the screenplay finds ways to focus on Abhishek and Rinky’s love story, which doesn’t always work, I feel, despite Jitendra’s strong performance. But this is a minor quibble with an otherwise excellent return for Panchayat. In Gullak and Panchayat, TVF surely has the two best ‘family-friendly’ streaming shows in India.  

Panchayat season two is streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Aditya Mani Jha is a Delhi-based independent writer and journalist, currently working on a book of essays on Indian comics and graphic novels.

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