During April 2020, the peak of the lockdown period, “Panchayat” arrived as a breath of fresh air. A chord with the audience was struck because of the series’ inherent simplicity. A lighthearted, laidback series about the life of a newly arrived secretary of the Panchayat of Phulera village, Abhishek Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar), is both a fish out of the water, as well as a reluctant hero. His plans are derailed, but as TVF’s MO is sticking to reality without delving into forced grittiness for the sake of mature content, he decides to adapt to his changing circumstances. The structuring of the series episodes, being procedural, shows how he manages to do the same by interacting with a colorful cast of characters anchored by terrific performances. The irritable and acerbic Pradhan (Raghubir Yadav) with a golden heart, his fiery and strong-willed wife Manju Devi (Neena Gupta), and the colorful duo of Vikas (Chandan Roy) (the assistant secretary) and Prahlad (Faisal Malik) (the deputy Pradhan) round out an eclectic, colorful, and adorable cast, and it’s their interactions that result in the free-flowing format of storytelling, where the clichés aren’t inherently recognizable or deemed necessary to be pointed out, ensuring that “Panchayat” was a breezy watch, a counter-programming to the high-octane thrill ride of binge-able content.
Like any returning series, the novelty factor wearing off is somewhat inevitable. Thus, a returning series can ensure its survival among the audience by expanding. For “Panchayat,” the expansion occurs via the characters. The Pradhan’s life, with his wife Manju Devi, and the new addition to the cast being his daughter Rinki, form an engaging, if somewhat loosely focused, storyline regarding Rinki’s impending marriage, which slowly becomes an observational piece on arranged marriage itself. The makers of the series wisely do not jump headlong into creating a romantic angle for Abhishek’s character via Rinki. Instead, the series begins with them having developed a friendship, which slowly deepens as the series progresses, but nothing concrete. It mirrors reality, the slow pace of the development of a burgeoning friendship.
The laurel and hardy duo of Vikas and Prahlad, meanwhile, form an ably supporting backbone through Abhishek’s trials and tribulations. Abhishek has now become a recognizable part of the community, with a plan to leave this village within a year. However, his tribulations arise from his interactions with an antagonistic villager who is unhappy with how the village panchayat has done its work so far and, with a bullish tendency, wants to bring about change. Those confrontations make for hilarious but also very interesting moments in the series, which also opens new avenues of conflict between Abhishek and the Pradhan in both of their abilities to run the Panchayat. That gets further compounded when the Pradhan finally tries to get the help of the local MLA. The character of Abhishek undergoes a culture shock when his idealism in handling administrative development comes under challenge as he witnesses how the Pradhan is forced to handle business. It’s a fascinating wrinkle that Season 2 explores far more deftly than you would expect, though, at times, it threatens to go towards melodrama and tends to lose focus.
The best episodes of “Panchayat” Season 2 are the standalone episodes. The episode dealing with the drunken driver of the jeep carrying the alcohol addiction campaign is hilarious and yet poignant. However, utilizing a far more serialized narrative by intersecting continual subplots among all the episodes makes for an overall coherent experience, but it does rob it of the uniqueness that Season 1 had. The episode where Abhishek is met by his city friend starts out feeling forced but slowly evolves into an eye-opener for Abhishek’s character about embracing his lot in life and making the most out of it, even as a bucket of beer is covered by a slithering snake, which his cohorts would have to help throw out.
The series, however, ends with a tonal shift that might feel jarring if you have been following the tonality wave from the first season. That is such a hard shift that plot threads and character arcs get paused. But then again, from a realism standpoint, an event like the death of a loved one carries an important amount of weight. Your life, as you had never known before, completely gets upended. And while the death of the character doesn’t feel like a story inserted for shock value, as the character was introduced at the beginning and was referenced in two more episodes, the character’s death itself doesn’t hold that much weight. The effect of one of the principal protagonists due to said death is far more important, and the series ends too with the protagonist wondering how he could continue living. So while Season 2 doesn’t shift tonality as deftly or as subtly as you would expect, the effect of the said event ties perfectly with the thesis statement of Panchayat – that is, the growth of the individual by adapting and surviving through circumstances, which also showed a village adapting and surviving through the Kafkaesque bureaucracy and the lackadaisical arrogance of the higher-ups. While “Panchayat” Season 2 might lack the novelty factor, it complements that with its performances and genuine progression of character arcs, even as serialized storytelling has the risk of failing miserably. But like the series’ forte, progression with baby steps or not losing its breezy tone and identity is the way to go, while also remembering Abhishek’s character arc and his evolution.