By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2020-09-04 07:55:22
Welcome to the world of fake babas and their immense clout, their sprawling and lavish ashrams and their nefarious activities. Prakash Jha is on familiar territory in Aashram, streaming on MX Player. The opening credits make it clear that the idea is to expose these fake babas and not to malign the true ones. And expose them does Jha do, in his own inimitable style. As is his wont, along with the story of fake babas, Jha has woven several of his pet themes seamlessly in the narrative.
Kashipur wale Baba Nirala, alias Monty, is as crooked as fake babas go, and some more. He runs an empire where drugs are procured in the name of a rehabilitation centre, men are castrated to make them 'pure', women are procured to keep the baba's bed warm, policemen toe his line and politicians vie for his attention and the votes of his millions of followers.
The opening sequences are pure Prakash Jha. The conflict between the upper and lower castes sets the stage for Baba Nirala to make a grand entry as the savior of the downtrodden. It also shows his ruthlessness as he grabs the upper caste patriarch by the balls to have his way. In the process, he wins the lifelong loyalty of a young wannabe Dalit wrestler Pammi, who begins to swear by him. When she is deprived of a rightful shot at the Nationals by fraud, she joins the ashram, along with her brother.
But when the body of a girl is dug up during the construction of a factory, a chain reaction takes place which forces the baba and his trusted and menacing aide Bhopa to start firefighting operations. They encounter a stumbling block in the form of sub-inspector Ujagar Singh, who with the help of government doctor Natasha and the local cable news journalist, tries to gather evidence against him and crush his empire.
Bobby Deol is outstanding as the conman baba. His screen presence is marvelous and he gets the mannerisms spot on. Chandan Roy Sanyal as his trusted sidekick Bhopa, who does his dirty work, is a perfect foil and is equally impressive. So is Darshan Kumar as Inspector Ujagar Singh. Anupriya Goenka as Natasha gives good support. But the surprise package is Aaditi Pohankar as Pammi, the young wrestler in awe of the baba. Her transformation from a wide-eyed Dalit girl trying to make her mark in life to a fawning devotee is exceptional. Although Pohankar is a seasoned actress (she was equally impressive in She), she kills it in the role of Pammi.
Aashram is an important series, eminently watchable and entertaining. The twists and turns will keep viewers hooked. Be warned, you will want to watch all episodes at one go. So start watching when you have the time. The trailer of the second season raises hopes of more of the same, at an altogether different level. Since Ujagar Singh will leave no stone unturned to book the baba and his gang will fight tooth and nail to protect their evil empire, this is one fight worth waiting for.