The Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act,1992 provides constitutional status to the gram panchayats as the third-tier of government. Through this historic legislation came the reservation of one-third of seats for women in the local government. Based on this issue, a new web series Panchayat created by TVF is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Panchayat, written by Chandan Kumar and directed by Deepak Kumar Mishra, is a story of a reluctant Abhishek Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar) joining as gram panchayat secretary in village Phulera of district Ballia in Uttar Pradesh. When Abhishek could not get campus placement like his friends, he decides to take the only job at hand in a far-flung village. Is it a hint for increasing joblessness?
So, it is this fish-out-of-water situation that builds the story. It is about the movement of a UP16 to UP60. The story explores the life in rural India in this context.
The village Phulera got its Pradhan seat reserved for women, but as patriarchy plays itself out, the official Pradhan is just the rubber-stamp. The husband carries out all the duties. Similarly, posts of other women ward-members have been usurped by their husbands, restricting the women to domestic chores. It is largely dominated by male characters indicating the invisibility of women in rural setups. The male egos are also made fun of when a chair is considered as a symbol of superiority.
Panchayat is about the simple lives of villagers, its superstitions, its sense of belongingness, and a community that acts like one in times of marriages and fights as one when in need. It invokes the familial feeling we lack in big cities. It explores the nostalgia around the age-old lock, as well as the superstition about a scary tree. Panchayat constantly brings about laughs through these encounters of Abhishek with Phulera, which itself is a character here, but never at once, ridicules it.
There is a subtle messaging against the dowry practices and the lack of education in the villages. But it does not over-dramatize it. Its strength is its simplicity. The very first episode talks about the non-payment of MNREGA wages and the sheer poverty of a worker. But this angle is left incomplete and it does not bother you as the series progresses. It also deals with corruption, when solar lights are to be installed and its acceptance by Abhishek when he negotiates for one himself.
The casting has been perfectly deployed; Brij Bhushan, de facto Pradhan, played by Raghuvir Yadav is not the villainous usurper of power, but ready to help and very accessible Pradhan, who has Sardar Patel as inspiration. The official Pradhan Manju Devi, played by Neena Gupta, steals the show even though the screen time allotted to her is limited. Manju Devi is not exactly enamoured of her husband’s prowess, leading to some entertaining sparrings between the couple. The series is about her taking responsibility as the pradhan and the slow path towards women empowerment. The Jana-Gana-Mana has been used most effectively here, in complete contrast to the jingoistic uses in our Bollywood films.
To conclude, Panchayat is about a reluctant Mohan Bhargav of Swades, entangled with the simple lives and simple people of Phulera. It does not push you hard, yet keeps you engaged, and before you know eight episodes have passed. If you expect something big here, it’s not for you.
PS: Bottle gourd can be a great way of expressing affection.