In this exclusive interview, Jitendra Kumar talks about his superhit show Panchayat, his character Abhishek Tripathi, why the Amazon Prime Video series has clicked with the audience the way it has, his new Netflix film Jaadugar, his approach towards success, and completing a decade as an actor.
Currently basking in the success of Amazon Prime Video’s Panchayat season 2, actor Jitendra Kumar is already looking ahead. His new film Jaadugar is slated for a July 15 release on Netflix.
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Written by The Viral Fever’s Biswapati Sarkar and directed by another TVF core member, Sameer Saxena, the film has Kumar play the titular magician. He shared its teaser on Instagram earlier this week. An absolute outsider in the entertainment industry, Kumar has a lot going on for him right now. He credits the bumper success of his and Ayushmann Khurrana’s 2020 film Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan for this massive turnaround in his career. Fructuously enough, Panchayat happened soon after.
The show’s second season, which released on May 20, has been receiving rave reviews. Netizens have been inundating social media with praise, memes, and a tonne of love, applauding the rooted performances, authentic portrayal, and taut script. In this exclusive interview, Kumar talks about the show that people cannot stop gushing about, his character Abhishek Tripathi, why Panchayat has clicked with the audience the way it has, his new Netflix film, completing a decade as an actor, and Panchayat season 3.
Q. How did Panchayat happen to you?
A. At TVF, we make the kind of shows we want to see. Malgudi Days is one of those. So we thought we should make a show on a present-day village. We started brainstorming. Someone suggested that the panchayat is a great concept through which we could follow several characters, involve the entire village, and show a myriad of stories. We then started to think about how we could make it quirky. The show’s writer came up with the idea of putting a young urban man at the heart of it. How he reluctantly has to go to the village as the panchayat secretary — a job he doesn’t want.
Once we cracked the basic premise, we started wondering who could play the protagonist. Since I was there, they said I can do it. I found the whole thing very interesting — the story, the character, and everything else around it. That’s how it happened.
Q. What was the one big difference that you noticed in your character Abhishek Tripathi between seasons one and two? How did you prepare for it?
A. The Abhishek of Season 1 is not at all interested in his work or the things and the people of the village because his ambitions are different. It’s not as if he wants to do something really big in his life. All he wants is a normal job. But the one he finds himself straddled with doesn’t fit any of his parameters. He is doing it only because he has no other better option. In Season 1, he is very frustrated. But eventually starts to find out that the village and his job aren’t so bad after all.
In Season 2, he is more comfortable with the village and its people; he is more involved in his work with the panchayat and has even started to enjoy it. Though he is still preparing for CAT, a lot of new things happen to him in this season.
As for the prep, I didn’t have to do anything new because the second season is in the same rhythm as the first. We had Season 1 as the reference point when we started shooting the second. Abhishek’s character, therefore, did not require as much work. But we ensured that it stays in the same rhythm — the same zone. We wanted the first episode of Season 2 to feel like the ninth episode of season 1. We wanted the second season to start from where we left off the audience at the end of the first so that it feels consistent. We didn’t enhance or extend any elements of season 1 just because the audience enjoyed them a lot.
Q. One moment from the second season when you felt that you guys have got this right?
A. Usually, the first day is the most difficult, but ours was quite interesting. When you are starting work on a second season and find the village just like you’d left it two years ago, it’s surreal. Nothing had changed in the village. The panchayat looked exactly like we’d shot in Season 1. So we picked up right from where we left off. On the first day, we knew we’d taken the first step in the right direction. When your first day is sorted, the others just follow.
Q. You have acted in several viral sketches, quite a few popular web shows, and a major Bollywood film. But which milestone do you think was the most pivotal for your career?
A. I think Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan was very crucial. The timing of its release and how families went to the theatre to watch it gave me a much wider reach. Before it, my audience from all the viral sketches and the web shows was primarily college students or corporate employees. My reach wasn’t too noteworthy among families. Shubh Mangal... broke that barrier for me; it increased the range of my audience. Panchayat, which again is a family show, came out soon after. So both of them have been very important.
Q. You’re killing it in the web space but we want to see you on the big screen again soon. When is that going to happen next?
A. Hopefully soon. COVID-19 happened a month after the release of Shubh Mangal... and completely changed how filmmakers were planning releases. All the offers that I got after it were mostly for streaming, whether it be films or series because there was no certainty about theatrical releases. Everyone was thinking of OTT releases and theatres only if circumstances turned favourable. I also hope to see myself on the big screen again soon.
Q. You recently shared the teaser of your upcoming film Jaadugar on Instagram. What’s it about?
A. It’s a Netflix film that will premiere on July 15. The film’s director Sameer Saxena and writer Biswapati Sarkar are really old friends. I met Sameer in the first month after I came to Mumbai. He is a very interesting filmmaker and has several fantastic shows to his credit.
Biswapati Sarkar was my senior in college. We arrived in Mumbai together to make films. Now, after 10 years, our first film together is coming out. It is his first film, my fourth. So we are really excited that we are finally doing the work that we set out to do when we were in college. I hope the audience will enjoy watching Jaadugar and will give it as much love as it has to all my other work.
Q. Has it all sunk in—the success, the appreciation, the hoardings, and the billboards? Do you think you’ve arrived?
A. When I came to Mumbai, I was shooting on Day 1. That day only I’d felt that I’d arrived because this doesn’t happen very often. It takes a while for an actor to find a spot in front of the camera. So such "I’ve arrived" moments keep coming and going in my life. It’s a very unpredictable profession and industry so you can never sit and think that you’ve arrived. You just cannot afford to think that way. Every two years you may feel like it but then you have to struggle for newer, different things. Abhi posters lag gaye hai, par abhi meri aur expectations hai with my characters, stories. When you have such expectations, you have to start again from level zero.
Q. You’ve completed 10 years as an actor. What have been the two major learnings in all these years that you’d want to share with non-industry folks who want to get into acting?
A. Filmmaking is all about teamwork. Tumhara akele ka kuch nahi hai. So you need to be able to work as a team. If you don’t know how to do it, then you need to learn it. Also, you can never think that you have mastered your craft. That’s not possible because you need to constantly learn, unlearn, and evolve. You need to look at what is happening, how things are changing, the new ways of doing and being, and continually adapt. And finally, you cannot put a time limit on your goals and dreams. It takes a lot of time to learn, to reach wherever it is that you want to go. Things happen in their own time. You have to go with the flow and be there when it happens.
Q. You and Panchayat director Deepak Kumar Mishra have already confirmed Season 3. What can we expect from it? Has the prep for it already begun?
A. We are in the very initial stages right now. The writers are currently discussing and working on how to take the story forward. Let’s see by when they develop it and ready the script. The shooting also takes a lot of time. Making Season 3 better than the second will be a tough challenge but we are up for it. We have initiated the process, let’s see how it goes. It will take time.
Read other pieces by Sneha Bengani here.