Panchayat Review: Living ‘Real India’

3.0 rating based on 1,234 ratings

The Story

Let’s begin with the characters. Jitendra Kumar is Abhishek Tripathi, an Engineering graduate who “didn’t work hard enough,” and ends up working as a Panchayat’s Secretary in Phulera: a UP village. Raghubir Yadav is Brij Bhusan Dubey—the village’s Pradhan, but only because he nominated his wife and then took her place. Neena Gupta is Manju Devi, the ‘official’ Pradhan of the village, and Dubey’s wife. Chandan Roy is Vikas and Faisal Malik is Prahlad Pandey, both of whom work in the Panchayat as well.

I mean, it goes without saying that everyone’s favourite, Jeetu, is a brilliant actor. His Abhishek is upset at his situation, arrogant, but also lonely. He’s far away from the comfort of him home and the city, and immediately conjures up his getaway plan from Phulera: The CAT. An MBA will give him everything he wants: high paying job, corporate office, and away from rural India. The rest of the actors are authentic to the T, portraying Panchayat workers, farmers, and homemakers with ease. The whole story is very believable.

Panchayat’s comedy comes from the idiosyncrasies of rural India. In each episode, Abhishek is introduced to the characters and internal politics that govern the village, affecting things like solar lights placement, myths around haunted trees, family planning superstitions, petty thieves who confused his computer for a TV (and then promptly returned it), and local gundagiri. These incidents keep you entertained and engaged, although the show’s general atmosphere can seem a bit dry at times; a bit boring.

Where Are The Women?

The first obvious question that hits you, is “where are the women?” You see Neena Gupta, who (typical of most Indian women portrayals) may be illiterate and a homemaker, but she has great control over her husband’s opinions and decisions. She tells him off, supports him, and is street smart. The only other woman we see is only in episode 7, who is another angry, controlling wife and happens to be illiterate.

See, it’s an obvious reality that older women in villages are not likely to be literate, or occupy public spaces. But the pattern of making them visible by making them boisterous and loud is a reductive one. You can’t just not show women for most of the show, and then have them as supremely empowered beings within their own territory, as they control their husbands. Show them as real people too—shopkeepers, farmers, labourers, a mixture of good and bad, young and old.

It’s only in the last episode, really, that the show appears to be overcompensating for the lack of female onscreen presence. While it was a beautiful moment for Manju Devi to hoist the Indian flag and sing the anthem, have the female District Manager witness this, and have all the other women who were ‘officially’ part of the Panchayat, it felt like dikhava. Overcompensation for the otherwise male-dominated show. Even Rinky is set out to be this mystery throughout—she is a “javaan” young girl and her father Dubey wants her married to Abhishek, who finally meets her at the end.

I’m tired of women either being either unnecessarily controlling, or hidden until the end, on TV and in films. If the male characters can be complex, driven by their own agendas, ambitious, why can’t the female characters also be that way? While the performances felt realistic, the story felt a bit weighted towards the masculine side. I’m sure it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Consensus: 3/5

Panchayat isn’t just a good show, it’s an important one. In the first episode Abhishek tells his friend that he “doesn’t want to see the ‘real India,” that he just wants a “normal life”. Yet, being in the village teaches him, and us, to be less judgmental, more aware of how decision-making works at the local level, and the impact that local government has on a people.

Watch Panchayat, and tell us what you think.

If you like what you see, slide into our DM us on https://www.instagram.com/mirchiplay/ 😉

Leave a comment