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I am in a good space right now: Panchayat star Jitendra Kumar

Latha Srinivasan | Updated on July 17, 2020 Published on July 17, 2020

A new script: Kumar says it was the freshness of the story that attracted him to the Panchayat series

A civil engineer who chose Bollywood over blueprints, Jitendra Kumar of Panchayat fame found recognition and challenging roles in digital entertainment

* Jitendra Kumar had come to Mumbai in 2012 after completing his civil engineering from IIT Kharagpur

* He joined The Viral Fever (TVF), a YouTube entertainment channel, in 2013. Since then, he has appeared in numerous TVF shows such as Permanent Roommates and TVF Pitchers

* The success of Amazon Prime Video’s Panchayat series and his Chaman Bahaar film on Netflix that showed he had truly arrived

Like thousands of others who flock to Mumbai with stars in their eyes, Jitendra Kumar — Jeetu, as he is fondly called — hoped to make it big as an actor in Hindi films. “I thought I’d sign numerous films in a year or two and build a house like Mannat,” Kumar says with a wistful smile — referring to actor Shah Rukh Khan’s famous address.

Kumar had come to Mumbai in 2012 after completing his civil engineering from IIT Kharagpur. But Bollywood had nothing to offer him, and, after a few frustrating months, he left Mumbai for Hoskote, near Bengaluru, to take up an engineering job.

Kumar, however, was still restless. He left his job and returned to Mumbai, and ended up joining The Viral Fever (TVF), a YouTube entertainment channel, in 2013. Since then, he has appeared in numerous TVF shows such as Permanent Roommates, TVF Pitchers, TVF Bachelors Season 2, Kota Factory and Cheesecake.

But 2020 was the game changer. Kumar, who is from Khairthal in Alwar, Rajasthan, is all smiles as he talks about the recognition that has now come his way. While playing the role of Ayushmann Khurrana’s boyfriend — a role many other actors might have rejected — in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan got him noticed earlier this year, it was the success of Amazon Prime Video’s Panchayat series and his Chaman Bahaar film on Netflix that showed he had truly arrived.

However, it wasn’t easy for Kumar’s family to accept the fact that he would be giving up a lucrative engineering career for the uncertain world of films. “My family was worried about where I would end up, but, luckily because of YouTube, I got recognition and they started feeling more confident about my work. Now they are very supportive,” he says.

Kumar knew that getting a break in Bollywood would not be easy. “I’m not a trained actor so I had to learn a lot initially and there’s a lot more unpredictability in this career. People judge you at different levels and on different aspects — it’s not just about your craft.” But the digital media, he adds, was a boon.

“We were able to share the kind of stories we wanted to and the audience lapped them up. This has been very beneficial for the last seven years. I am in a good space right now,” he reiterates.

Kumar’s films have largely had a rural setting. Panchayat and Chaman Bahaar both highlight the simplicity of village life. Kumar says it was the freshness of the Panchayat story that attracted him to the series. “We used to see emotion-driven content on television about 20 years ago. The story in this series may seem uncomplicated, but place a young urban male in a small town where life is slow and basic and things turn eventful,” he says.

In Chaman Bahaar (Netflix), the actor played the role of a village paan shop owner who is besotted with a young woman living opposite his shop. “I try to make sure that each role I play is different and always hope that the audience accepts and enjoys what I do. Some shows or films are trendy and work well with audiences. But the work that I’m doing is quite unique and I’m often anxious as to whether the audience will watch it,” he explains in a video call.

Kumar stresses that he enjoys exploring uncharted territories. In 2019, he was seen in Kota Factory, a web series shot completely in black-and-white.

“I was very apprehensive because we were shooting a show like this in 2019 but it was a huge hit,” he says. “The story has to take me to a different world and if I enjoy the narration then I accept the role.”

Kumar is not perturbed about the perceived nepotism in the film industry — there have been heated debates in recent times on privileges enjoyed by the offspring of those already in the business and the difficulties faced by the others in getting a foothold in the industry.

“I feel this is a part of every industry. People here look at their comfort zone and convenience. When writers or directors make a film, they cast people they are friendly with or know well. But, at the same time, the media and audience also play a role in this. We get excited and look forward to a star’s son or daughter making their debut in cinema,” he says. “I think it’s the responsibility of the media and the audience to encourage and support newcomers in the industry — go watch their films too.”

Once that happens, he holds, the issue of “favouritism” will get resolved. “All I can tell my fans is that they should watch my films and shows,” Kumar says.

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Published on July 17, 2020
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