Thursday, July 25, 2024

Panchayat Season 3 Review: Still Entertaining, but With More Political Spin

TVF seems to be harbouring the secret magic formula for creating shows that feel like a warm hug. The same fuzzy feeling inhabits the third season of Panchayat, TVF’s social comedy series that began in 2020. The new season features beautiful writing, nuanced performances and, to my surprise, a more realistic portrayal of rural India, surpassing the already high bar that Panchayat set in its previous two seasons. It’ll make you smile, cry, laugh, contemplate, and probably google the government’s Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana!

What makes this season stand apart is that the rose-tinted glasses come off this time. The protagonists still share the warm camaraderie, but we get to discover their tumultuous individual arcs, along with their emotional baggage and crises, making room for a paradigm shift. Political rivalries intensify, and their consequences become more threatening. If I were to give it straight, Panchayat’s third season bursts several glossy bubbles of utopian fantasy and gives hard-hitting reality checks.

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Sanvikaa’s story arc gets more screen time as compared to previous seasons

We see Prahalad Chacha (Faisal Malik) turning to alcoholism to cope with grief, Vikas (Chandan Roy) enduring the fear of financial burden silently, Abhishek (Jitendra Kumar) trying to shrug off his obvious attachment with Phulera, and Brij Bhushan Dubey (Raghubir Yadav) facing humiliation from all enemies on the political front and scuffles back at home.

At different points in the season, you’ll feel sorry for each one of them, but most of all for Prahalad, who is visibly crushed under the pain of his son’s loss. Something has changed within him forever, and Malik’s brilliant performance embodies that loss. There is a scene in the third episode where he shows someone the disastrous condition of his house — riddled with dirt, empty bottles, and scattered dreams — to make them understand the importance of having a family, and the two then shed tears in complete silence. The scene has been written sensitively and is bound to leave you teary-eyed. In a similarly invigorating sequence, he offers a hefty amount to help construct a road in Phulera so that Pradhan ji wins the election and, also, simply because “what is a man with no purpose to do with so much money?”

As the episodes progress further, you’ll gravely miss the quartet’s “baithak” sessions, when life used to seem much simpler over a couple of drinks. The emotional beats of the story make just the handful of such light-hearted yet fulfilling scenes even more impactful than in previous seasons. Through the interpersonal relationships of its characters, the show made me think about the friends I have unwillingly lost touch with.

This season, we see more of the slowly brewing romance between Rinki (Sanvikaa) and Abhishek. There is a lot of eye-talk, coy smiling, wordplay, and awkwardness. Thankfully, both Jitendra and Sanvikaa have delivered good performances without resorting to typical Bollywood melodrama, cheesy dialogues, violins, and flowing chiffon sarees.

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Raghubir Yadav and Neena Gupta have delivered fine performances this season as well

Besides the primary cast’s expected stellar performances, the one that stole the show for me was Jagmohan’s grandmother, played by Abha Sharma. Such a flavourful performance! She brings in a splash of refreshment every time she is on screen. From her spot-on accent and playful expressions to the mischief in her body language, Sharma has aced the role wonderfully and has managed to mirror the essence of the typical “dadis” of Uttar Pradesh.

Over the eight episodes, we meet many such colourful characters. Some familiar faces, including the groom featured in the first season and his ill-mannered friend, also make brief appearances. Despite so many arcs, the series doesn’t seem overstuffed, and each episode unfolds in the show’s signature slow style.

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Makers have done an impressive job with set design, props, and costumes

What I particularly loved was the production design for the setting. It is relatively rare for Indian cinema and television landscape to portray rural regions with authenticity. The usual depictions are often marred by a romanticised vision of villages, rife with factual inaccuracies in the name of creative liberty. And yet, Panchayat has not only managed to do so but has even surpassed its previous two seasons in the context. The showrunners have managed to narrow down the otherwise wide gap between commercial and art cinema. From real households and everyday items to actual local brands and the snacks being served in celebrations, Phulera‘s portrayal is beyond impressive. The rigorous work must have been put into achieving a faithful depiction of hinterland India is apparent.

If you watch the show carefully, you’ll even find plenty of visual metaphors and gags. For instance, when accusations are being fired at Pradhan ji, you’ll find him losing control of his otherwise friendly buffalo. And Abhishek always spills his tea just as things are about to take a twisted turn. Or Vidhayak, who has been accused of murdering and then eating a dog (yeah, we know it’s gross!), has paintings and showpieces of camels subtly placed in his drawing room.

The best of them all is a scene where two infuriated groups are facing off against each other, ready to take on the other with batons, guns, or whatever they can get their hands on. An official is trying to pacify the agitated crowd. Just as things are about to blow up, a loud phone call blaring “Sara Jahan Se Achcha” as its ringtone interrupts the proceedings.

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Bhushan tries to take advantage of the enmity between Pradhan Ji and Vidhayak in this season

While I loved the show otherwise, I am a bit apprehensive about the slight shift in the overall tone of the series, with more political humdrum in the spotlight this time around. We meet other elected members of the Panchayat; there is a lot of election banter, official meetings, and more. Even Uttar Pradesh’s infamous gun culture has made the cut.

While this shift isn’t very overdramatic and doesn’t overshadow the narrative, future seasons might also bring more political drama to the forefront, as hinted in the cliffhanger of the finale. I hope that even if the show takes on more political shade, the raw emotional appeal and genuine portrayal of nuanced interpersonal relationships — Panchayat’s strongest suit since it first started — isn’t compromised.

All eight episodes of Panchayat are now available to stream on Prime Video.

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