Aashram season 3 cast: Bobby Deol, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Aaditi Pohankar, Esha Gupta
Aashram season 3 director: Prakash Jha
The first two seasons of ‘Aashram’, in 2020, followed within a few months of each other. This third season has taken two years. About the only difference this time around is in its name: it has turned into ‘Ek Badnaam Aashram’, so that there is no doubt in our minds that this ashram is a bad place, run by an evil baba, and his equally evil cohorts.
But we already knew that. So, what’s new? We have been a witness to the ‘kali kartoots’ (black deeds) of Baba Nirala (Bobby Deol) and his faithful sidekick Bhopa (Chandan Roy Sanyal), which included deflowering young virgins, castrating young faithfuls in the name of ‘shuddhikaran’ (purification), lacing laddoos with intoxicants, and meddling in the politics of the place where this very Dera Sachcha Sauda-like ashram exists.
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It was already feeling old by the time the second season drew to an end. And this time, it’s just more of the dreary same: when we see a pubescent young woman, not quite all there, accompanied by her parents fetching up at the baba’s durbaar for a ‘cure’, we know what fate will befall her. The canny old politician, nursing his grievances against the baba’s betrayal, will do a volte-face. The fresh-faced CM and his sprawling constituency will become the hotbed of conspiracy.
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Meanwhile, a new femme fatale joins the slate. Esha Gupta plays a hot-shot brand manager, who promises to burnish baba’s image, and take it to the world — Baba will become Bhagwan! She doesn’t forget to bung in an item number while she’s at it, but the writers forget that falling back on such a tired filmi device in a web series is never good news. It just shows how thin the box of ideas has become. And it doesn’t help that both Deol and Sanyal are given weakly-written scenes to parade about in: how many times can you see their combined smirks and feel a shiver? Sanyal is a good actor, and Deol’s smarminess was effective the first time we saw it, but the challenge of building on their character traits through this third season has been roundly flubbed.
The most interesting character in the series, Pammi Pehelwan (Aaditi Pohankar), a Dalit young woman who wants to become a boxing champion, and whose rebellious streak was shaping to give the baba a run for his illicit money, has been turned into a sobbing, simpering thing. The other characters who had something to do before this, are left to fend for themselves.
The series had abandoned its caste-and-class sharpness, director Prakash Jha’s forte, by the second season. That’s what kept us watching in the first place, as it went about exploring the world of self-proclaimed godmen, the kind that wield so much power in spheres which affect us, without our knowledge. This time around, it’s just ten episodes of tedium.