More of the same
Baba Nirala is back in 'Aashram Chapter 2 – The Dark Side'. In the new season, Baba Nirala does not need to pretend that he is a good guy. Except when he is in his 'durbar', where hordes of daily visitors come for his blessings, he is busy with what he does best: preying upon unsuspecting young women and playing politics with the 'netas' who come begging for his help.
The ashram-as-the-bed-of-vice starts getting unpeeled rapidly. In one corner, 'prasad-ke-laddoos,' laced with addictive substances, are being manufactured apace as the drug is as lucrative a business as politics. Intrepid cops Ujagar (Darshan Singh) and Sadhu (Vikram Kochhar) are penetrating the layers in disguise.
In the dungeons deep below the ashram's buildings, broken young women are being kept captive. The feisty young Pammi (Aaditi Pohankar) is working hard to become a wrestling champion, fighting off rivalries in the 'akhada'. Her brother Satti (Tushar Pandey) has been packed off and his sultry wife Babita (Tridha Choudhary) has also been suborned, both at the Baba's bidding. It is only when the Baba turns his licentious eye on Pammi that the veils of adoration start lifting.
Meanwhile the Baba, his faithful right-hand man (Chandan Roy Sanyal) and his goons merrily continue doing bad things to good people.
Now that the novelty of the first season has worn off (it was already wearing thin by the end), the only way to keep the audience engaged is to introduce new elements and characters. But not much has been done on this crucial score, so 'Aashram 2' comes off as more-of-the-same. Prakash Jha is too skilled at creating squelchy hinterland characters (one of them, a cross-dressing warden of the women's hostel stays a stand-out), but at nine near-hour-long episodes, there are too many repetitive loops.
Also, Jha has inexplicably dropped any mention of caste-and-class in this second season. The reason behind Pammi's blind devotion to Baba is that he is seen as a savior of the downtrodden of people like her. Now that Pammi knows of Baba's dark side, will there a revolution? That might bring social realism back in the reckoning and give the people a viewing fillip.
When people will get the third season, Bobby Deol could perhaps consider getting a little less one-note. He is always kitted out in sweeping outfits and smarm and this time around shares his stage with rockstar Tinka Singh (Adhyayan Suman) in his desire to corral the 'youth'.