The opening shot of “Panchayat” is a single lane road in the middle of nowhere. A lone, blue bus is rattling at a medium pace surrounded by brown, bare fields of dry North Indian heartland. Jitendra Kumar, who plays the protagonist, Abhishek Tripathi, anxiously asks the bus conductor if we’ve reached Phulera. Here, we go into a brief flashback in which Tripathi and his friend Prateek are in a multiplex, talking about Tripathi’s upcoming job as a secretary of the village council, or panchayat of Phulera.
Like most other engineering graduates, Tripathi wants a good pay package and the perks of urban life. He doesn’t want what his well-meaning, better-paid friend calls “the chance to be Swades ka Mohan Bhargav.” But Tripathi grudgingly takes on a low-paying, low-profile job in a tiny village in U.P because it’s better than staying home jobless. Tripathi is glum and wishes he had worked harder in college. I was intrigued as I remembered similar feelings of despondency as I graduated with an MA degree from Dartmouth College without a job offer in hand last year.
“Panchayat” is an original production of The Viral Fever (TVF), the production house that pioneered the web series revolution in India with “Permanent Roommates” back in 2014. “Panchayat” premiered on Amazon Prime in early April and garnered universal acclaim from such leading critics as Anupama Chopra, Rajeev Masand, and Rahul Desai, among others. The show also currently has an 8.8/10 rating on IMDB with more than 19,000 votes.
Looking at the show’s popularity, it is clear that “Panchayat” succeeded in breaking through the clutter, which is no easy feat. There is more content than ever, in all genres and formats. Talking about Over-the-Top (OTT) content in India, Chopra said to me,
“Streaming content in India is still a hit and a miss, but it’s wonderful that there is so much variety.”
“Panchayat,” which Chopra said is keenly observed and insightful, is a hit with critics and viewers alike, with viewers finding themes of social isolation and difficult choices increasingly relevant in this COVID-19 world.
The eight-episode series follows Tripathi’s job and life in Phulera. It is an authentic portrayal of life in a tiny village in desi badlands. Neena Gupta plays Manju Devi, the village council head, who is happy to stay home and let her husband Brij Bhushan Dubey, essayed by Raghubir Yadav, take charge. The village politics play out well, with Dubey who was the council head for many years using his wife to retain power despite the government’s mandate to bring more women into politics. Gupta and Yadav are delightful and never hit a false note.
Equally captivating is Jitendra Kumar as Tripathi, whose dilemma is universally relatable. The writer of “Panchayat,” Chandan Kumar told me,
“One of the central thoughts behind this show is to highlight the ‘frustration of being stuck in a wrong job/situation and desperate attempts a person makes to come out of the situation.This feeling is so common that we were sure Abhishek Tripathi’s character would be relatable to many.”
Chandan Kumar is right. Most of us have been in a similar situation or at least find it familiar enough to find a common thread of shared experience. Adithyan, who lives in New Jersey and works a corporate job, said about the show,
“Tripathi’s dilemma of having to choose between limited options is very relatable. Parts of my job are very frustrating and sometimes I consider quitting. But then I think about the bigger picture and realize that there are always going to be some trade-offs.”
Tripathi’s life in Phulera is not glamorous. He hand pumps water for a bath. He eats bottle gourd, or lauki, for dinner more often than he likes. He spends all his time after work preparing for the Common Admission Test (CAT), the entrance exam for top MBA programs in India, where he plans to use his “work ex” to set him apart. His living quarters and his office are separated by a curtain. Panchayat strikes a poignant note of relevance for South Asians feeling stuck right now during COVID-19 lockdowns. Himani Joshi, who completed her Master’s degree from Thayer School of Engineering in March, is sheltering in place in Hanover, a small college town, which sits prettily on the border of New Hampshire and Vermont. She says,
“The protagonist lives in his office too. I currently live in a studio and because of mandatory work from home orders, I’m in the same small space all day. Guaranteed my living conditions are much better than his, but I could understand his pain.”
Panchayat addresses issues such as illiteracy, feminism, dowry, and superstition in a subtle way. Each episode in this character-driven show has a small event pushing it forward. Talking about how impressed she was with the final product, Gupta said to me,
“The innocence of the show touches you. I was so delighted (with the final product), I immediately gave a call to the TVF team and told them to start working on the second season, making full use of the lockdown now. Once it lifts, we can quickly get to shooting it.”
Gupta has been enjoying a steep rise in popularity recently, thanks to the success of her film “Badhaai Ho” in 2018. A versatile actress and consistent performer, Gupta said her character might have a more important role to play with a substantial trajectory in the future seasons.
Most of Gupta’s scenes in the series are with Yadav, who plays Brij Bhusan Dubey flawlessly. Dubey is likable but problematic. He loves the attention but sometimes lacks the courage to do the right thing if it’s unpopular. Talking to me about his character, Yadav said,
“The reason this character has touched everyone’s heart is because one can find goodness even in his weaknesses.”
One of the most popular scenes in the show is Tripathi’s outburst in the fifth episode, where he talks about how lonely he feels in the village. This is Jitendra Kumar’s favorite scene too. Talking to me about this scene, he said,
“It’s a very well written scene with a powerful and hilarious build-up leading up to his outburst. As the audience is given a deeper look into who Abhishek Tripathi is — this scene is one of my favorite parts in the series.”
Loneliness in a foreign land is unmissable too. Varsha Murali, who went to school at NYU and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, agrees.
“We didn’t really have a campus where people just lounged about. You leave class and you are out in New York City, which is a very diverse place with over millions of people. Our class lived so far away from each other. I was alone a lot in NYC, I was lonely at times, but because it’s NYC and you can do things on your own, I was able to get through it.”
Over the course of “Panchayat,” Tripathi learns to adapt and look at the bright side of things. In the last episode of the season, Tripathi tells his friend that it is unlikely that he will fall in love with the village. But eventually, he does, and in the process, so do we.
March 20, 2023March 21, 2023 4min readBy Nida Hasan
If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking.
I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.
— Smriti Mundhra
As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.
In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.
For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.
At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.
In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.
It’s never a dull moment with your girl gang; some shots and conversations about sex, right? If you agree, you’re in for a treat with Karan Boolani’s directorial venture, “Thank You For Coming,” which had its world premiere at the 48th annual Toronto International Film Festival. This coming-of-age story unapologetically begs the answer to a very important question: Why should women be left high and dry in bed?
Kanika Kapoor (Bhumi Pednekar) is a successful, 32-year-old, Delhi food blogger who makes a huge revelation on her 30th birthday: She’s never experienced an orgasm. This dirty little secret (no pun intended!) has now become detrimental to her self-esteem. She feels so down and out that she even accepts the proposal of a very boring suitor, Jeevan-ji (Pradhuman Singh Mall).
But, it’s not like she hasn’t tried. Kanika’s been a monogamist since her teenage years, starting with puppy love in high school — unfortunately, their sexual endeavors coined her as “thandi” (cold) by her first boyfriend — all the way to dating in her adulthood. But, regardless of how great any relationship was, nobody had her achieve the big O. All until the night of her engagement with Jeevan, when the drunk bride-to-be leaves the party for her hotel room and gets into bed. What follows is her very first orgasm. Ghungroo, finally, tute gaye! But, with whom?
The morning after, an initially-satisfied Kanika works herself into a frenzy of confusion and frustration as she makes her way through the list of potential men who could’ve been in her room the night before.
Was it one of her exes? She’d simply invited them to come to wish her well.
Was it her fiance?
Or, God forbid, was it actually the rabdi-wala (ice cream man)?
Boolani takes a straight-forward and on-the-nose approach to drive the point home. There are no cutting corners, no mincing words, and no hovering over “taboo topics.” The dialogue is raunchy, the characters are horny, and no one is apologetic. It’s important for a film like “Thank You For Coming” to be so in-your-face because the subject of women achieving orgasms can’t really be presented in any other way. Anything more conservative in the narrative would feel like the makers are being mindful of addressing something prohibited. And there is no room for taboos here.
But, there is room for a more open conversation on the reasons why many women feel the need to suppress their sexual needs in bed; how generally, women have been brought up to be the more desirable gender and hence not cross certain boundaries that would make them appear too brash. The fight for the right of female pleasure would have been a little more effective if the modesty around the topic was addressed. But, that doesn’t mean that the point is remiss.
The plot moves swiftly along, never lulling too long over everything that seems to be going wrong in Kanika’s life. “Thank You For Coming” is full of all the right tropes that belong in a comedic, masala film, too; the direction very seamlessly takes classic fixings like the abhorrent admirer (enter Jeevan-ji) and effectively plugs them into this contemporary feature that will remain perpetually relevant.
And now, let’s come to the star of the show: the well-rounded characters.
Producer Rhea Kapoor has mastered the formula of a good chick flick and her casting is the magic touch. She’s got a knack for bringing together the right actors — cue, “Veere Di Wedding.” So, just when we think that it doesn’t get better than the veere, Kapoor surprises us with a refreshing trio — they’re modern, they’re rebellious, and they say it like it is. Thank you, Dolly Singh (Pallavi Khanna) and Shibani Bedi (Tina Das) for being the yin to Kanika’s yang — and for the bag full of sex toys your homegirl oh-so needed!
To complete Kanika’s story, we have her single mother, Miss. Kapoor, brilliantly portrayed by Natasha Rastogi. She is the face of a headstrong and self-assured matriarch and a symbol of the modern-day Indian woman. Rastogi’s character exemplifies the fact that with access to education, and a stable career, women do not need to mold their lives around men.
I love the fact that Miss. Kapoor is almost villainized by her own mother (played by Dolly Ahluwalia) in the film because she had a child out of wedlock in her yesteryears, she chooses to remain single, and she brings her boyfriends around the house to hang out with. But, there’s a point to be made here. The fact that Kanika’s mother is being antagonized just highlights that she is challenging the norms and pushing the envelope for what is socially acceptable for women. Miss. Kapoor definitely deserves an honorable mention.
Pednekar’s unexpected yet impeccable comic timing is the highlight of the entire film. Everything from being a damsel in sexual distress to a woman who unabashedly chases self-pleasure, Pednekar puts on a genuinely entertaining act for the audience. From being portrayed as a high-schooler to the 32-year-old, independent woman, Pednekar is fit for each role. Her naivety as a teen wins you over, as does her gusto as a full-blown adult with a broken ankle and some very messy relationships. This also speaks volumes about the versatility of her looks.
And, of course, Pednekar is not new to films that address social topics, but “Thank You For Coming” challenges her to balance Kanika’s droll with the responsibility of delivering a very important message to the viewers. Mission accomplished, Ms. Pednekar!
“Thank You For Coming” is a through-and-through entertainer. Everything from the casting — a huge shout out to the rest of the supporting cast including Anil Kapoor, Shehnaaz Gill, Karan Kundra, Kusha Kapila, Gautmik, and Sushant Divkigar, without whom this roller coaster would have lacked the thrills — to the homey locations and even the glitz and glamor in the song sequences, they’re all perfect pieces to help drive home a powerful message: Smash patriarchy!
“Ghoomer,” R. Balki’s latest directorial venture, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023 (IFFM), earlier this month, and the moment was nothing short of memorable. Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi, were present to unveil their labor of love to the world, and all three were left speechless at the reaction of the global audience; the film received a standing ovation on opening night, leaving the team extremely emotional — a feeling that Bachchan tells Brown Girl is one he cannot put into words.
“Ghoomer,” tells the story of Anina (played by Kher), an exceptional cricket player who loses her right hand in an accident. Downtrodden and with no will to live, Anina finds a mentor and coach in Padam Singh Sodhi (played by Bachchan), an insensitive and brash failed cricketer who helps her turn her life and career around; Anina also has the unwavering support of her husband, Jeet (played by Bedi). Sodhi teaches Anina unorthodox techniques to make her mark on the cricket ground once again. Enter, ghoomer, a new style of bowling.
Balki checks all the boxes with this feature — his protagonist is a female athlete, the film is his way of giving back to cricket (a new form of delivery), and he highlights the idea that nothing is impossible for paraplegic athletes. The heart of Balki’s film is in the right place — Kher mentions that the film is meant to be more of an inspirational movie and less of a sports-based movie. One can only imagine the impact that a film like this would have on an audience that’s hungry for meaningful cinema.
And, to chat more about “Ghoomer,” Brown Girl Magazine sat down with the stars of the show. Bachchan, Bedi, and Kher came together to talk about their inspiring characters, the filming journey, and how their film aspires to change the landscape of cricket and paraplegic athletes in the country. It was all that, with a side of samosas.
Take a look!
The featured image is courtesy of Sterling Global.