The self-proclaimed godman Baba Nirala is back with ten more episodes in the third season of Prakash Jha’s popular series Aashram. The series is now officially called Ek Badnaam…Aashram, presumably to avoid offending some folks. However, the title change does not help the show avoid offending audience’s intelligence. At its core, Aashram is a crime drama-cum-thriller but moves at a snail’s pace. With the absence of thrill and a tone that belongs to the 90s, the show is formulaic and corny, only saved by the performances of some of its principal cast members. Also read: Aashram season 3 trailer: Bobby Deol is back as the Baba with a God complex, Esha Gupta is out to seduce him. Watch
Aashram follows the exploits of Baba Nirala (Bobby Deol), a godman/conman who has built a political/criminal empire in the guise of a spiritual enterprise. It takes off from the last season when one of his disciples Pammi (Aaditi Pohankar) escaped his clutches after being sexually abused by him and is now out for revenge. In the background are a multitude of characters and plot lines about the Baba’s lust for power and women and the changing political fortunes of the state where his aashram is.
Aashram is built on a solid idea. Internationally, shows about fraud godmen and their cults have been critically acclaimed and well received by the audience. But Aashram lacks the finesse of something like Waco, True Detective season 1, or even Orphan Black. It does not believe in the art of subtlety. The drama is magnified, the music is loud (more on that later), and the performances over the top. There is no nudity or vulgarity but at times the show tends to titillate. The tone feels like that of a 90s crime drama at times and not one of the good Abbas-Mustan ones, but the corny Rajiv Rai ones with continuity errors.
My biggest issue with Aashram is how it treats its women. It is sad that the show has come from Prakash Jha, the man who gave a strong female cop in Jai Gangaajal. But Aashram adopts a piercing male gaze when it comes to the depiction of its women, even those in the position of power. It brings in Esha Gupta, who plays an internationally-renowned publicist and brand consultant. Aashram chooses to introduce her with a seductive dance sequence. Some might say there was a need for that sequence in the plot but what it essentially does is reduce a successful, powerful female character to an object of sexual interest, dancing for a more powerful male character.
The show is clear that while Baba Nirala is the central character, he is not a good guy. It does not depict him in a sympathetic light but that crass tone negates that. Each of the charlatan’s exploit is presented with some added cinematic masala making it ‘enjoyable’. What that does is it turns the baba and his henchmen into some sort of anti-heroes. You know they are evil but you sub-consciously root for them. The people they swindle, torture, and kill do not get the sympathy they should. They, instead, come across as bumbling and naïve fools. And since you don’t feel sorry for them, you do not feel the rage you should towards the baba.
Bobby Deol is the fulcrum of the show and he delivers the performance of a lifetime. He is believable as the cunning yet charming charlatan and brings to fore a creepiness that was required for the role. Supporting him splendidly in the acting department is Chandan Roy Sanyal as Bhopa Singh, the Baba’s trusted lieutenant. Chandan’s performance breathes life into the narrative. But the show does disservice to the talents of Anupriya Goenka and Darshan Kumaar. As the doctor and upright cop on a crusade against the aashram, their screen time is much reduced as compared to previous seasons, giving their characters very little room to grow. The characters have become caricatures of themselves. I realized just how unfair the script is to them when I figured that the plot would not have changed much had the two not even been in it this season. Esha Gupta looks good as Sonia but the show under-utilises her.
Despite being pitched as a thriller, the narrative moves at a snail’s pace. Episodes drag by and characters are stuck in the same situations and same dilemmas. The same cat-and-mouse game is repackaged and reproduced every 30 minutes or so. And it does not work as a slow burn too. Despite having so many intriguing plot lines, Aashram dulls them to such an extent that it tends to get boring. And the atrociously random background score does not help either.
Aashram tries hard to be a smart show but it fails because it isn’t smartly-written. The show takes a concept and incidents from the real world and sets them in some make-believe world where things are exaggerated and fake. The depiction of judicial and investigative processes is so amateur that it becomes laughable. The realism is missing, which wasn’t the case when it began two years ago. The realism is what made Aashram successful in the first place in seasons one and two. Season 3 ends with a teaser for the fourth season, which means the show shall go on. But for its own sake, I do hope that it either gets back on track or ends before it is reduced to a shadow of itself. Aashram’s third season begins streaming on MX Player from June 3.
Series: Aashram season 3
Director: Prakash Jha
Cast: Bobby Deol, Aaditi Pohankar, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Darshan Kumaar, Anupriya Goenka, Esha Gupta, Sachin Shroff, Adhyayan Suman, and Tridha Choudhury