Poster of 'Panchayat 3'
Poster of 'Panchayat 3'

From IIT to rural politics: Jitendra Kumar on 'Panchayat' and his acting career

The actor navigate rural politics through the third season of popular web show 'Panchayat'.

When 'Panchayat' released about a week after the 2020 Covid lockdown, the web series offered a convenient escape from the unprecedented turn of events. For many, it started as a mindless watch. Headlined by Jitendra Kumar, who was then best known for his role in another 'The Viral Fever' (TVF) series, 'Kota Factory', 'Panchayat’s success was as uncertain as the circumstances. Not anymore. Four years and two seasons later, the Amazon Prime show has a loyal following.

As the actor reprises his role as the village panchayat secretary for the third instalment (released May 28), he says, “I was quite sceptical if anyone would be curious to watch a show based in rural India. But more than the small-town audience, it struck a chord with urban as well as international viewers.”

Jitendra adds, “I have made conscious efforts to be as excited about this character as I was when I first played him. It takes a lot of work to not get repetitive. Every decade brings some change in cinema. Viewers no longer want fantasy, but are now seeking entertainment in reality; the mundanity of life and its struggles.”

Jitendra’s character, Abhishek Tripathi, is an engineering graduate who, after failing to crack it at the corporate game in the city, finds his way to Phulera, a remote village in Uttar Pradesh. Panchayat follows his journey as he adjusts to his life in the boondocks, and the villagers. The actor reveals that RK Narayan’s ;Malgudi Days; was the inspiration for the show, but to make it appealing to urban audiences, they made his character a city slicker. The narrative is told from his point of view, and offers a good dose of both nostalgia and novelty.

Jitendra Kumar
Jitendra Kumar

The latest season sees Tripathi, who has adapted rather well to the village life, navigating the complexities of rural politics. Jitendra confesses that he too had harboured political ambitions in the past. “My family has a political background, and I have had first-hand experience in observing election campaigns. I did consider joining politics at one point, but over time got disappointed with the way things work. Besides the stress of responsibility, the confrontations, and how ideological differences can create a wedge between you and your own people, turned me against it,” he adds.

An IIT alumnus, he started pursuing acting while studying civil engineering at IIT Kharagpur. It was a chance meeting with Biswapati Sarkar, the creative director and writer at TVF, which landed him his first gig, 'Munna Jazbati: The Q-tiya Intern' in 2013. It was followed by the immensely successful 'Kota Factory', where he played a teacher at an engineering coaching centre; it crowned him the digital superstar long before the OTT wave gripped the country. Panchayat only reinforced the genuineness of the title. Over the last four years, he has also forayed into films, the most mainstream one being 'Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan' (2020), where he played Ayushmann Khurrana’s gay partner. There after 'Chaman Bahar' (2020), and 'Dry Day' (2023) was released.

Ask him what made him contemplate a career in acting after cracking IIT, and he says engineering seemed a lot tougher than acting, which is “mood-driven”. But the road he chose wasn’t a cakewalk either. “I was a misfit when I started. I wasn’t the quintessential actor who looked a certain way. I had to push myself into thinking that acting is a broad subject and it takes one a lifetime to develop the skills,” he says, adding, “There is a constant temptation to grab whatever comes your way, resulting in an unintentional tendency to get lost in work and feel isolated. So I do try to maintain a work-life balance. Otherwise acting can take its toll too.” Is a fourth season of Panchayat in the offing? If Jitendra’s career trajectory is to be believed, never say never.

The New Indian Express