During the winter of 2004, mainstream cinema audiences did not quite appreciate Mohan Bhargav trying to “rescue” Charanpur from the clutches of developing rural areas. They should have, given that the NASA project manager simply fought to eradicate poverty, casteism, child labor and a host of other diseases from which the fictional village of Uttar Pradesh suffered in the Swades by Ashutosh Gowarikar.
SRK’S MOHAN BHARGAV VS PANCHAYAT’S ABHISHEK TRIPATHI
Critics felt that the character’s growth arc apparently resembled Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s political rise after returning from South Africa. But even Shahrukh Khan, the then-bankable star going against his romantic hero grit to channel the NRI scholar who chooses his country and an Indian girl over a white-collar job in the US, didn’t couldn’t harvest the moolah. Fabulous cinematography, excellent music by AR Rahman, and liberal doses of “stark reality” notwithstanding, Swades failed to make a Lagaan at the box office.
Gowarikar’s take on the award-winning 2003 Kannada film Chirugida Kanasu could not connect with the masses. Or were they tired of the diatribe that most filmmakers put on in the garb of outback Indian mitti ki khushboo? Where some sort of messiah was needed to cure the village of social and economic ills, if not the mafia raj Anurag Kashyapesque!
A still from Panchayat Season 2.
If so, it’s quite interesting how the thread of thought or reel narrative has changed. And how the public, who rejected the intelligent and ultra-educated Bhargav, welcomed an unassuming Abhishek Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar) into their cinematic conversations when he was a disillusioned graduate biding his time as secretary of the gram panchayat of an Indian village that would love to flee Phulera once it pockets a secure leadership seat. Jitendra Kumar did what King Khan could not. Floor the audience. Maybe because he, rather Chandan Kumar, who scripted Amazon’s hugely popular web series, didn’t portray him as a savior. Yes, there are start-up issues in his wake as he tries to settle in the nondescript village where the Indian government has sent him, but there’s a feeling of “I could belong in his place” in our mind as it takes everything in its stride. The moment he buys cookies from a local kirana dukaan, a poor villager asks him for money to buy oil so he and his family don’t have to eat another frugal meal of boiled vegetables and rice.
A deep sense of pragmatism hangs over the story as Tripathi instead of helping the old man tells him to come to the panchayat office the next day so that his dues can be settled. Yes, he will help the people as a government employee, but he is not even at all interested in being a godsend to deliver the oppressed from penury. Consequently, his character development is remarkable, especially as he stands up to the Bhushan ‘banrakas’ even as he learns to juggle grameen politics.
PANCHAYAT MAKERS FELT THE PULSE OF A CHANGING INDIA
Fortunately, the makers of Panchayat have felt the pulse of an India that is changing, rather progressing, steadily (one example is the modern miracle of cell phone penetration). There are enough cases where, while the villagers need the support of the government, life is not torrid and miserable. As if not in Govind Moonis’ Nadiya ke Paar, a charming 1982 romance set in a village in eastern UP, starring Sachin, Sadhana Singh and Inder Thakur. While most rural dramas of this era portrayed our villages as quicksands of cruelty inflicted on farmers by feudal lords and evils committed against women, here is a production of Rajshri where a daughter openly tells her father that she won’t marry someone because she loves her younger brother.
It is telling that the same sense of importance and freedom is given to Rinky (Sanvikaa) in the work of Deepak Kumar Mishra when his opinion is considered important in his own marriage. She is young, educated and drives a scooter. Her parents don’t forbid her to talk to the new sachiv (the option of him being her future husband cannot be undone) nor do they resent her wearing a kurta and jeans.
The women of Phulera seem quite progressive, compared to the situation in Hum Aapke Hain Koun (Nadiya ke Paar remake) where Tuffy, the pet dog, dons the role of communicator for a mute Nisha! Twelve years after the release of the original film, women’s liberation seemed to have taken a hit! Perhaps that’s why Manju Devi (Neena Gupta), the Panchayat’s gram pradhan, is a welcome break. A grihalakshmi with better political instincts than her husband, she is an equal with a strong sense of right and wrong. With a fiery spirit all her own, she doesn’t mince words while berating people who go astray. However, she balances that tenacity with a compassionate and caring side, protecting her people in times of need, even as she puts elitist MPs in their place with a lick of her tongue.
Stories like Panchayat work because they glorify the power of a collective. Just like Saurabh Khanna’s Raghav Subbu and Kota Factory did. Here is a narration set in Kota, a small educational center known for its coaching centers that was positive, fun and heartwarming. Tracing the lives and journeys of boys like Vaibhav Pandey, Balmukund Meena as they journey towards their IIT goal guided by a practical yet passionate and driven Jeetu Bhaiya (played impeccably again by Kumar), a strange familiarity has masked the series from the start. Not that the writing evaded crucial issues of competition, parental pressure or the politics involved in coaching centers, but the authenticity remained. Unlike Biswa Kalyan Rath’s Lakhon Mein Ek, which dealt with a similar theme, a cloud of depression enveloped the narrative. The appeal of Kota Factory is its upbeat vibe, attention to technical detail, and serious characterization. It doesn’t lie with flimsy promises that competitive exams are a cakewalk. But the tone and tenor are inspiring, relatable, and reflect the true face of small town dreams and aspirations.
With the second season of Panchayat garnering good mileage, the ensemble cast of Kumar, Raghubir Yadav, Chandan Roy and Neena Gupta have found their way into the hearts of audiences as well as critics with their portrayal of characters who don’t give up. the base. decency and respect, no matter how complicated things get. The depiction of real rural India, which is not shrouded in propaganda, clearly struck a chord. Yes, some roads in Phulera still need to be repaired, a handful of villagers still don’t have their own toilets, a few still need to get rid of the urge to defecate in the open, Panchayat elections promise to be a wild affair, but here it is curiosity how this place is evolving under the leadership of Kumar, his assistant Vikas, Brij Bhushan Dubey and Prahlad Pandey. After years of feeding on distorted and demoralizing narratives, this may be the reality that the Indian cinema tribe has been eagerly awaiting.
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