What makes the audience warmly embrace ‘Panchayat’?

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The third instalment of the Indian web-series “Panchayat” premiered on Amazon Prime on May 28. Within a week, the series recorded over 12 million streams, as reported by its production company TVF and Amazon Prime. The anticipation among viewers was palpable, however, the enthusiasm surrounding season 3 has surpassed all previous trends associated with the show.

Over the past week, the series has been the focal point of discussions in film and series communities, on YouTube, and across social media. Interestingly, the excitement extends beyond India, with viewers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and other regions showing equal interest.

“Panchayat” revolves around the life of a village in India called Phulera. This village in Uttar Pradesh is neither entirely backward nor fully illuminated by modern technology. The series portrays the inherent problems of rural life, including the struggle against poverty. Each episode weaves meaningful stories around the Panchayat leader (Pradhan ji), his wife (Pradhan Pati), the secretary (Sachiv ji), Prahlad, and Vikas.

The second season ends with the villagers uniting against the injustice of the local MLA (Bidhayak) leading to the transfer of the secretary. The new secretary’s arrival and the protests from the village head and others regarding his joining mark the beginning of the third season of “Panchayat”. The transfer is eventually cancelled, and Abhishek, the previous secretary, returns, bringing back the familiar dynamics of the Panchayat. The story expands, making the latest season a blend of many familiar stories– with writer Chandan Kumar masterfully integrating old narratives with new subplots, creating a multifaceted tale worth discussing.

Under the direction of Deepak Kumar Mishra, the most captivating aspect of “Panchayat’s” new season is how the story is crafted to ensure that no subplot can be excluded without affecting the main narrative. Over eight episodes, totalling more than five hours, viewers are taken deep into Phulera village, where each story leaves a distinct impact. As a work within the comedy genre, the project avoids political satires common in Hindi web-series, and instead chooses a direct and straightforward storytelling approach suited to the village’s narrative.

While it might not be fair to label the “Panchayat” series as technically flawless, its cinematography consistently stands out. From the introductory drone shots to the seamless transitions through panning shots, “Panchayat” offers a visual treat. The upper-angle shot of Prahlad sweeping his house and the climactic fight scene capture the essence of classic cinematographic excellence. Each shot in “Panchayat” is imbued with its unique atmosphere, complemented by the distinct character of its sound design.

One poignant example is the sorrowful orchestration during the scene where Prahlad is brought down from the tower—a sound that evokes deep empathy. The impact of music on the audience is also evident in the scene where the MLA sells his horse. The series masterfully uses these elements to influence viewers’ emotions. Another notable instance is the tracking shot that moves from an old woman lying down to Jagmohan and his wife sitting—a subtle yet powerful depiction of their world.

However, the series isn’t without its technical flaws. Issues such as imperfect lip-syncing in dubbing, occasional lens flares, abrupt music halts, and secondary actors’ inconsistent expressions and dialogue delivery are present. Yet, these minor technical glitches hardly overshadow the emotional depth and narrative strength of the series.

The moment where a tearful Prahlad turns away from the mural of his martyr son Rahul, the frequent mentions of WhatsApp as a facet of Indian life, the series’ underlying dark political tones, and the ambient sounds of village life, like the calls of cuckoos and crickets, enrich the storytelling, giving it an authentic rural texture. These elements collectively elevate the series, allowing viewers to overlook its technical shortcomings.

“Panchayat” raises questions about the representation of women in rural settings, and the minimal visibility of women outside central characters. This choice prompts a discussion on the roles the director envisions for village women.

The primary reason behind “Panchayat’s” immense popularity across South Asia is undoubtedly its character development. From the groom character in the first season to Amma Jee and Bam Bahadur in the current one, “Panchayat” sets a benchmark for creating impactful characters with minimal screen time. Each character, whether it’s Sachiv Ji, Pradhan Ji, Prahlad, Vikas, Rinky, or Bhushan, is given a backstory that enriches the narrative, ensuring every cast member leaves a mark on the audience.

The fictional village of Phulera, depicted in “Panchayat”, is a quintessentially rural setting, where even the construction of a road becomes a pivotal election issue. This village, poised on the brink of transformation into a semi-urban locale, reflects broader societal changes. Discussions around a viral Facebook clip in the series hint at this impending shift.

“Panchayat’s” primary audience comprises the educated urban class, who subscribe to OTT platforms and are nostalgic for a simpler, bygone rural life. This demographic, often immersed in corporate fantasies, finds solace and a sense of connection in the portrayal of village life. This nostalgia is “Panchayat’s” most potent asset. The series capitalises on the emotional resonance of rural life, presenting a village that aligns with the idyllic vision many hold in their imagination.

In essence, “Panchayat” is a product that leverages the emotional weight of rural life to carve out a distinct market niche. It portrays the village of Phulera in a way that resonates deeply with audiences, turning it into an emblem of nostalgic rurality in the first two seasons. This connection is the cornerstone of its widespread appeal and enduring success.

The ascent of OTT platforms was significantly driven by narratives steeped in violence, free sexuality, and worlds far removed from our familiar human relationships. Understandably, the overabundance of such violent content has, over time, created a need for purely human stories devoid of brutality. “Panchayat” touches this very nerve.

In “Panchayat,” there is no violence to speak of. Instead, it offers dark humour, stories about real-life problems, and screenplays that highlight India’s social issues. Abhishek, also known as Sachiv Ji, despite having studied engineering, moves to a remote village for a job, preparing for the CAT exam, a scenario explored from various angles.

“Panchayat” was released during the Indian Lok Sabha elections. Currently, political instability prevails across India and the subcontinent. In such times, “Panchayat” showcases the true face of grassroots-level politics. The politics of Phulera village is the essence of real politics. These are the root-level voters, easy to manipulate, where mob justice can be swiftly created, and rumours spread with alarming ease; all of which are significant weapons in contemporary politics.

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