Aashram Chapter 1 & 2 builds a very compelling world based on the far and wide consequences of blind faith. The larger than life aura and fanfare of the central character, Baba Nirala is cringe-worthy but at the same time very immersive with all the ‘japnaam’ chants. While the direction, editing and narration are amateurish, the series does manage to throw light on many uncomfortable realities of exploited faith.
Kashipur wale baba urf garibon wale baba is a powerful Holy man with tremendous clout. With an army of body builders and a clever chief he abuses the power of faith and controls millions of minds without batting an eyelid. He resides in a fortress like Ashram disguised by peace and devotion on the surface and a hell house underneath. It is a Prakash Jha film hence the extension to politics and social realism is obvious and seamless. Selling drugs and vote banks happen to be the most lucrative business choices for Baba to run his daily show with hints of many other crimes that are consequential.
Season 1 progresses leisurely to reveal the viciousness of the not so godly Godman introducing multiple characters, plots, subplots, extensions of the subplots etc slowly biting much more than it can chew. The premise built in the first few episodes promises of many twists and revelations that compel you to stick around, but before you know the first chapter is over and just like the ‘bhakts’ of this baba, you have been drugged into hoping for a better season 2.
By the time we enter into Season 2, the gloves are off, we know most of the crimes committed and can even predict the ones in process. Bhopa (the chief in command) continues with his casual cruelty to get shit done. Baba dresses up in even more royal clothes and grooves to hip Bhajans, oh sorry just one hip bhajan played a thousand annoying times. Some characters disappear and some gain attention. This time the episodes are shorter but equally unproductive. Sequences of Baba harassing women take up much of the screen time and whatever is left contributes to nothing in this 9 episode long chapter 2.
Bobby Deol as baba stays consistent with his cool demeanour, droopy eyes and raised eyebrows. With Class of 83 and now this, the OTT platforms have introduced us to the unexplored capabilities of the younger Deol. We just hope there is more than just one-tone to his character in the coming season. (Oh yes! There is another season coming, dreadfully yes). Chandan Roy Sanyal as Bhopa is scarily effective as the chief in command. Despite the unintimidating physical appearance of the actor, the character remains to be the most savage. Aditi Pohankar as Pammi delivers another promising act after her debut in SHE, we must discount her terrible Haryanvi accent though. Among other actors, Darshan Kumar as inspector Ujjagar, Tridha Chaudhary as Babita, Anupriya Goenka as Dr. Natasha, and Rajeev Siddhartha As Akki get a little more time than others to shine in this crowded narrative. There is also a joke of an appearance by Adhyayan Suman as Tinka who is seen as very cheap copy of the likes of YoYo Singh.
The theme of Ashram inherently comes with capabilities of becoming a full blown masala entertainer. Reminiscent of Baba Ram Rahim Singh, Asaram Bapu and maybe more, the reality here is so grim that the makers have no need to innovate or exaggerate, plus you place all this in the hands of a veteran like Prakash Jha. Hence the disappointment of such amateurish execution and mishandled narration is even bigger.
A few good things come in the depiction of systematic abuse of blind bhakts and a believable physical world created in the name of Ashram. Season 2 ends with nothing new to add, unfinished plots and no closure. If this is a trick to get you into watching season 3, it works, but this suffering it puts you through is criminal.
Going with 2.5/5 Cutting for this one.