Screen Time: Small Towns, Big Feelings
We recently highlighted streaming content focusing on small towns and the simple life. Nostalgic viewers craving more of the same can check out other charming shows about mundane routines, the neighborhood Satyanarayan ki puja, sleeping on the terrace during a power cut, and the kirana shop where Parle-G biscuits, paan, and gossip are always in stock.
Panchayat Season 2 (Hindi)
The sequel to the much-loved TVF series surpasses all expectations and then some. For those who need a quick recap, the first season tells the story of Abhishek Tripathi, an engineering graduate who has been appointed as the secretary of a gram panchayat in the fictional village of Phulera in Uttar Pradesh. Tripathi has to adjust to village life while also dealing with the head Pradhanji (Raghubir Yadav), his wife Manju Devi (Neena Gupta), and two other officials: the hilarious duo Vikas (Chandan Roy) and Prahlad (Faisal Malik). In the first season, Tripathi is looking to leave Phulera as soon as he can, but by the end of the season, these quirky characters are family to him. Season 2 takes off on this note of bonding as Tripathi makes a sincere effort to improve the lives of the villagers—by launching anti-addiction campaigns and getting toilets installed, while also participating in family and community functions. This season has its moments of laugh-out-loud comedy as well, but watch out for an ending which will have the biggest cynic nursing a lump in his throat. It gladdens my hearts that we have both seasons of Panchayat available to us when we need some comfort viewing.
Nirmal Pathak Ki Ghar Wapsi (Hindi)
Just like Abhishek Tripathi, Nirmal Pathak (Vaibhav Tatwawadi) journeys from the city to the hinterland and his roots. But that’s where the similarity ends. In this social drama set in rural Bihar, the young Pathak has returned to his ancestral land to immerse his father’s ashes. A father with a complicated history, which the son knows nothing about. The series starts off easing the viewer into grimmer things to come. The friendly nok-jhok between family members, the jokes, the lush green khet that city dwellers can’t get enough of— it’s all there to soothe and comfort until the time when Nirmal must confront the casteism and patriarchy his village is steeped in. Does he attempt to make things right or does he keep to the sidelines? The protagonist does come off as someone with an upper caste savior complex and the series does not really tie up the ends neatly, but it’s worth a watch for the issues it raises. That’s something big budget Bollywood movies haven’t been doing in a while.
The Broken News (Hindi/English)
If you are tuned into the crazed circus that Indian broadcast media is today, you will relish this series directed by Vinay Waikul (Aranyak, Netflix). The series follows two rival news channels—the credible Awaaz Bharati, which takes its journalism seriously, and Josh 24/7, which believes in “cooking the story well before serving it to the people.” While Awaaz is helmed by upright editor Amina Qureshi (Sonali Bendre), who believes in facts, not opinions and feelings, the star of Josh is Dipankar Sanyal (Jaideep Ahlawat), who believes in alternate facts and ratings and will cross every line to keep his channel as the most watched channel in the country. Like I said, if you are a keen watcher of the news landscape in India, you will identify one too many “journalists” and news professionals who will fit both these profiles perfectly. There’s also Radha Bhargava (Shriya Pilgaonkar) who is determined to bring her fellow reporter’skillers to justice. The series is a potboiler, essaying the ambition and greed of its characters and the nefarious nexus between politics, the media, and data mining corporates. The series could have had a tighter ending, but the short episodes keep it pacy. There are some fine performances—it’s always a pleasure to watch Ahlawat in his element, dark yet vulnerable. Sonali Bendre in a few scenes reminds me of her ditzy but sweet character from the Aamir Khan starrer, Sarfarosh, but she also comes into her own: luminous and dignified. The scene stealer is Pilgaonkar (her parents, Sachin and Supriya, are beloved Hindi and Marathi actors), who has been making interesting choices. Her last outing was Guilty Minds (Amazon Prime), which we recommended earlier.
Another gem from the talented film folks in Kerala. This one is a political thriller based on a true incident that happened in Palakkad. On October 4, 1996, the Palakkad Collector was held hostage in his office by members of a group called Ayyankali Pada. They were activists who were determined to negotiate with the government to repeal the Adivasi Land Amendment Bill, which denied the Adivasi community their rights to their land. The taut drama is a re-enactment of what happened that day and is essayed to perfection by an ensemble of actors who have dazzled audiences with their past performances. Fans of Malayalam cinema are familiar with the acting prowess of Dileesh Pothan (who acted in and directed the stunning Joji), Kunchacko Boban (Nayattu, Nizhal), Joju George (Malik, Madhuram), and Prakash Raj. Fluent storytelling and crisp editing keep the audience tense and immersed. We can’t wait for more content from this talented bunch.
Baisakhi Roy is a culture writer and journalist based in Ontario, Canada. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, Chatelaine, Broadview and CBC. Formerly a reporter with The Indian Express in India, Roy is an avid Bollywood fan and co-hosts the Hindi language podcast KhabardaarPodcast.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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