Jitendra Kumar: Now, aunties, mothers and uncles know me

Updated: Jun 23, 2020, 08:21 IST | Mohar Basu | Mumbai

Internet star Jitendra Kumar on how Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan and Panchayat changed the game for him.

Jitendra Kumar
Jitendra Kumar

It all started with an innocent bet after watching Amazon Prime's Panchayat, headlined by the delightful Jitendra Kumar. In one of the episodes, he has to let go of a chair that he holds close to his heart. At the end of the episode, his boss Sarpanch-ji brings a similar chair into the office. As my friend and I placed a bet on whether it was a new chair or not, we called the one man who would know the answer. Kumar incidentally is in the midst of promoting his Netflix film, Chaman Bahar, which tells the story of unrequited love. "My character aspires to run a paan shop and the film traces the reality of one-sided love. We've set the story in Chhattisgarh, complete with its local dialect and flavour," he says.

Kumar forayed into Bollywood earlier this year with Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan. As an actor balancing both mediums, where does he stand on the OTT-versus-theatre debate? "The theatre experience can't be replicated. How do you shrink a Baahubali to a 13-inch screen? But, some stories reach better on OTT. For instance, people had missed Gone Kesh when it had released, but the film grabbed eyeballs on Amazon. On the other hand, Shubh Mangal is for community viewing where people can hoot, laugh and cry together."

Though Kumar was already a bona fide Internet star, he agrees that Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan brought him mainstream appeal, and in turn, gave a boost to Panchayat. "Earlier, 15 to 35-year-olds would watch my work. After Shubh Mangal, aunties, mothers and uncles knew me, and that helped more people watch Panchayat. Their constant reference point was: 'Woh Shubh Mangal wala ladka hai iss show mein'. On some days, I wake up to long texts from fans who explain how the character resonated with them." The actor informs that the second season is in the works. "The writers are working on it."

Having started out with TVF sketches in 2012, Kumar was gradually perceived as the quintessential boy-next-door as small-town stories became a sub-genre into themselves. Ask him if he fears that his middle-class-boy act will get repetitive, and he reasons, "Am I stereotyped? Probably, but Aman Tripathi of Shubh Mangal is nothing like Sacheev in Panchayat. Small-town stories are far too many and we have just started to explore them on screen. If we write fresh material, I don't think we will run out of ideas. I came from IIT Kharagpur to Mumbai to become an actor. I was confident that in a month, I will have movies, and in a year, I will be a star.

The reality was starkly different. Despite how long it took to reach here, I can say with complete faith that hard work and relentless effort are rewarded. My college friends still don't take me seriously as an actor, but I have a sense of contentment." In the wake of Sushant Singh Rajput's tragic demise, Kumar's is the much-needed story of an engineer from a small town who broke into Bollywood.

Of course, the chat will be incomplete without asking him about the chair. He laughs, "The Sarpanch buys himself a new chair to show the young city-bred boy who is the boss of the village!" That's a bet won, alright.

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