We are living in a world where News channels are dramatic, every opinion is judged upon, celebrity brags and preaches are followed, Logo/Ad-perceptions are taken too seriously, and authoritative instructions of Balcony applause and lighting are followed religiously.
I diligently fulfilled my duty of clapping hands on the balcony and got ready to embrace the lockdown last historic year. This is when I discovered Panchayat which had dropped in at Amazon Prime video few days prior. Had not read much about it but somewhat presumed it to be yet another drama series popular with the OTT platforms.
Unexpectedly, Panchayat did not intrigue me with a shocking or a bold storyline or a larger-than-life canvas. It did not seem to sell me dreams either. The remote UP countryside of Phulera village threw in subtle glimpses of poverty, proxy leadership, superstitions, casteism, old age customs of dowry, lack of birth control, preference to boys over girls. However, the narrative was not a social commentary. It was humorous but not a satire or an over-expressive sitcom.
Yet it attracted, engaged, humoured me giving a slice-of-life in a typical northern countryside through the team of 3-4 team of panchayat characters who build the stories and perspective of the place. It was a pure-play of Situational emotions and beliefs.
While the story revolved around the city-bred graduate, reluctantly joining as the Secretary or Sacheev of Phulera village and his mishaps there. But I was most fancied with the village’s panchayat team of Chief and the assistants. They had their own quirks, beliefs, small aspirations, but were essentially simpletons with an innocuous & colloquial wit. It was interesting and fun to watch their mannerisms and lingo, which may not have been as authentic to UP, yet close. Characters sometimes instigated each other for their own benefit sometimes, but overall there was general goodness and simplicity amongst them. There was harmlessness in the environment despite all the fallacies existing in society. With a humorous tonality and subtle dramatization, Panchayat got me chuckling and smiling from beginning to the end with a very feel-good after-taste.
It perhaps resonated with many others who put up posts/comments about the series and its famous punchlines/laughs on Social Media. Therefore, I was taken aback when at the end of 2020 every media was trying to capture the best and worst OTT series, one of them assessed it as overrated, claiming the plot as non-consequential leading no-where.
I shrugged off the rating as baseless but nonetheless got reminded of the series once again. I rewatched the first episode, then the second, then the third, and could not resist watching till the end with a similar eagerness as the first time.
Phulera was the same as I had left, where horror and superstition spread faster than progress. The characters, Proxy Pradhanji still believed that anyone could be made happy or turned around by gifting his home-grown bottle guard. His dilemmas were still resolved by his wife’s reasoning. Wife, Manju Devi worldly-wise as ever, still led like a boss at home but had no qualms in husband handling her position outside. Prahlad, the Asst. Pradhan was still lazy and affable with a Gamucha around his neck. Chandan, the assistant to Sacheev, still figured out ways to provide comfort to his boss, which mostly hit a googly.
Sacheevji, Abhisek…. Sorry Abhishek Tripathi was still the frustrated soul, who always found himself meddled in a petty issue. He was still focused on studying for the CAT entrance which could enable him a life within ambitious workstations, Insta-world of his friends, and selfie-worthy hangouts. But this time I empathised with him, who was always consoled and given the analogy of Mohan Bharghav by his friend to motivate him for his current job.
Kind of unfair.
Mohan Bhargav of Swades was a successful NASA scientist before embracing his native village and work for its upliftment. Abhishek Tripathi was a youngster, who was yet to see the success, the world at large, to have such an inclination. Moreover, he had no roots in the said village. He wanted to have a lightened home but wasn’t proactively working on the village enlightenment, apart from what he was instructed to. There may be a self-centredness about him but there is nothing wrong with being ambitious for oneself.
I wanted him to ace his CAT. But a part of me also wanted him to stay back and continue to catalyst the fun.
Another thing that I observed this time, is that there may be differences in way of life between a village and a city but there are many similarities too. Like Horror and Superstition is devoured universally. All it takes is one smart-alec to spread a ghoulish rumour. Villagers may aspire to keep names after celebrities, but city dwellers not only follow the names but the celebrity/movie fashion trends too, to the T. Thus, there are affordable copies of Sabyasachi sarees, Manish Malhotra lehengas, Padmavat inspired jewelry. Social issues exist in the city as well, but we are sophisticated enough to garb it but Phulerians had no pretense about it.
But the most important aspect that dawned on me this time is that Panchayat is non-judgemental. It observes socio-economic issues but is not prejudiced against Sacheevji’s stance or the villagers’ biases. It has the issues dealt with very subtly, rather accidentally sometimes, without any preach or making a statement. Perhaps that’s why It is appealing and a refreshing watch from the hyper and over-the-top voices around.
There may be nothing of major consequence happening in the stories, but Its charm lies in the daily routine and small things which brings out quirks, a sense of belongingness, camaraderie, inspirations, acceptance amongst the characters. As the citizens claim, Phulera’s beauty is best viewed from the top of the village’s water Tank but it needs to be felt within with all its imperfections.
We should have more of Panchayats to which we can go back to again and again, to rediscover the comfort and hope to discover new facets every time. It could very well be set in a city. As I mentioned earlier, human essence is the same everywhere. Somebody reminds me of yesteryear’s Nukkad and current Gullak. But those are middle-class stories. We can do with some Upper-Middle class background too. We need more daily dose of simplistic life of city dwellers. Coz however much we may flaunt our Social Media profile as “A Traveller, Dreamer, etc etc etc.., ”, we are all but sum total of our daily aspirations, joys, beliefs, biases and panchayati gossips.
Neha Sureka lives in Bengaluru. She is an occasional poet and writer.