In satire, irony is militant. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels serves as a fine example. Although the book has four parts, it is popular for the first one, A Voyage to Lilliput. Not just their size, their problems are also small (read trivial) for Lemuel Gulliver. Lilliputians are politically divided on the basis of shoes (high or low heels). Their quarrel is also about breaking which end of the egg is more religious. So, when Gulliver is charged with treason for urinating in the capital when he was merely putting out a fire, it sprouts an absurd question. Is urinating justified to put out a fire? Or, more so, do ends justify the means despite the inanity? Irony stands tall.
The story of Prime Video’s Panchayat, whose second instalment was released this week, is no different. Abhishek Tripathi’s (Jitendra Kumar) backup job of being a Panchayat sachiv (secretary) is the only one he has after graduation. The first season introduces us to the world of Phulera, a village in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
The characters—Pradhan ji (Raghubir Yadav), ‘Vice-village head’ Prahlad (Faisal Malik), Pradhan ji’s wife, or the actual Pradhan, Manju Devi (Neena Gupta) and sachiv sahayak (office assistant) Vikas (Chandan Roy)—are simple folk. Their problems are small or trivial for Abhishek and are the primary cause of his exasperation.
While we laugh at his irritable monologue after a night of no electricity or when he has to draw water from a hand-pump, the makers understand the gravity of village problems. A man slipping and falling over a banana peel is a subject of amusement. We guffaw at somebody’s pain. Panchayat 2 makes us aware of it.
The second segment starts with an aerial shot of familiar fields. Abhishek, after a failed CAT attempt, is back to work as the Panchayat secretary. Better dressed and with a quick gait, he has started enjoying his routine. The problems, similar to season 1, are laced with irony.
CCTV cameras are being used to find a goat; people are unable to change their habit of defecating in the open despite toilets; the driver of an addiction awareness campaign van is himself drunk. But, Abhishek, this time, is more involved. He is devising ways to derail villager Bhushan’s plans of gaining popularity over the Pradhan. He is helping Pradhan’s daughter Rinki ward off a creepy suitor. He has started to feel at home in the village, unlike Agastya Sen—the marijuana-smoking, ceiling-staring philosopher civil servant of Upmanyu Chatterjee’s book English, August.
Existential dread might just be half a cigarette away. The inventive series paints a picture of a developing country and how its troubles, even if not resolved, can be laughed away over sips of beer. The writing is amusing but not without drama. Every character follows an arc. Chandan Roy’s Vikas, however, might be going in a circle. Jitendra Kumar is the face of the series but Faisal Malik’s Prahlad is the mood. The bibulous widower seems like a comic relief when situations go south. I want to be there when the laughter stops.
Series: Panchayat Season 2
Director: Deepak Kumar Mishra
Cast: Jitendra Kumar, Raghubir Yadav, Neena Gupta, Chandan Roy and Faisal Malik
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video