We demolished the Panchayat office wall: Actor Jitendra Kumar

Actor Jitendra Kumar on his life since Panchayat S1, finding a new audience and how the village the series has been shot in, had to look the part
Still from Panchayat.
Still from Panchayat.

A series is endearing to a viewer for the freshness it offers. At least, that’s the story of the first season. A second season is like a second helping, one wants more of the same. The third is the real tricky territory. A balance has to be made. What more can this world offer, without crumbling on itself? Everybody wants what the screenwriting manuals suggest: “Old wine in a new bottle.”

Panchayat S3 has reportedly crossed 12 million views in the week of its release. The show’s first instalment premiered in April 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic was starting to spread its tentacles. With a rapidly changing reality outside the window, with its nostalgia, its old-world charm, Panchayat comforted its viewers in their living rooms.

The series also got its lead Jitendra Kumar aka Jeetu noticed. by an older audience, at a time when he had been defined as the TVF-watching-teenager. We speak to Jitendra about how life has changed for him over the seasons, his new audience and how the Madhya Pradesh village, the series has been shot in, has evolved over the years.

Panchayat came at a time when OTT was inundated with fast-paced, gritty shows. It is a relatively calmer series. Years back when you got the script, what was your take on it?

I remember this idea was very different from all the other ideas I discussed with the makers. We all had come from urban backgrounds, so, a series that is entirely set in a village was uncharted territory for us. We were all apprehensive about who would watch it.

But for me, I found it very fresh on the page itself. I also thought there was a lot of scope to expand this story, many nuggets about rural life we can get by talking to the villagers. We were of the opinion that once anybody starts watching Panchayat, they wouldn’t want to abandon it. But such wide acceptance was a surprise.

How has life changed as an actor since Season 1?

For the actor in me, things have changed drastically. The first season came just three months after the theatrical release of Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (in which Jitendra starred alongside Ayushmann Khurrana). The family audience saw me in that film first and then again in Panchayat. This solidified me in their minds because till then I was only known by youngsters who had seen Pitchers and all my other work at The Viral Fever (TVF). With Panchayat, a new set of audiences opened up for me.

What sort of praise do you get from this newfound viewer?

When I gained popularity after Pitchers, my audience was the college-going youth, so the response was quite “rageful”. For Panchayat, the response has been quite warm. They don’t treat me as a celebrity, they consider me as one of their own.

In all three seasons, the show has been shot in Madhya Pradesh’s Mahodiya village. How has that village changed over the years?

You should ask the production team (laughs). Their legs start trembling in anticipation before we enter the village. Things change there every year. When we were going to shoot for the second season, the villagers had made a boundary wall around the real panchayat office. They had also repaired the road in front.

Since the story demands a dilapidated office, we had to demolish the boundary wall and even find another road with potholes (road repair is the major cause of drama for the series). They develop their village more every time we go to shoot so that it looks better on camera. They think they are doing us a favour. Then we have to convince them that the story demands a certain type of village.

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The New Indian Express