People die, are killed, get mauled, or worse, are made government ministers, at opportune moments in Aashram Season 3, where Bobby Deol plays Baba Nirala, the conman-godman-rapist-therapist. Two seasons strong, the Baba is yet to face justice after injecting the youth with drug-laced ladoos, and grooming and raping women. Two seasons, that is eighteen episodes, around 750 minutes of streaming. Add another 400 minutes for season 3, and yet, the show doesn’t give what it promised when it began — justice for the wronged, punishment for the wrong. What you get is a hoodwinking tease, one that never climaxes, promising you another time, another season, another year. This clearly works for MX Player, with around 15 million people watching the third season within the first three days of its release, the highest for any show this year. They have already shown the rushes for season 4, releasing in 2023.
That is a stunning amount of time to spend merely setting up the story. I think the director Prakash Jha took the phrase longform content to its logical snapping point, and then pushed some more. A length that he sells as compelling drama, with an abruptness that he sells as a “cliffhanger”.
There is certainly something pathological in the way Baba Nirala is written, but Bobby Deol’s performance is so stoic, lacking the charisma with which he can wrest unconditional love from his devotees.
Pammi (Aaditi Pohankar), the Dalit wrestler — whose Dalitness was used to establish her character in season one and, then, forgotten — who after becoming a devotee of Baba Nirala gets raped by her, and then decides to avenge this violence, is still growling. She has the help of a cop, Ujagar Singh (Darshan Kumaar) and a videographer (Rajeev Siddhartha). The entire third season is essentially a chase, laced with many intersecting, intercepting stories.
This is because the version of increasing the stakes of drama is so shameless, so breathlessly crowded, so random, it produces the feeling that the show is floating above you. If you ask me to explain the story, I won’t be able to. I won’t know where to start. And if I somehow start, I won’t know where to end. Many of the sub-plots are just finished with the person writing a letter and exiting the stage — either as a suicide note, love letter, or resignation. It continues to mistake a constantly moving drama from a constantly engaging one. The background score is a confused orchestra of feelings.
Then, there is Adhyayan Suman who sings rock bhajans and retreats into his coked up cavern, like awkward pinpricks every few episodes. Suddenly, he becomes a minister. Youth affairs, I think? Characters whizz by and when you encounter them again, you realize you had forgotten that they had a part to play in the story, which is still unfolding, twenty eight long episodes after it began.
A tonal catastrophe, Aashram Season 3 follows closely on the heels of its preceding seasons. (I was sternly told at the time, by the MX Player PR, that it was not Aashram Season 2 but Aashram Season 1, Part 2, but I guess continuity is not something of importance, to their craft or their promotion.)
The worst thing is that the show is never able to entirely commit to Baba Nirala being a villain. When he is shot by Pammi, he reaches his hands out in a melancholic gesture, as though he has been emotionally wounded by this act, not just physically. Elsewhere, with his wife, he speaks of moksha as though he believed in its possibility and in his powers. Is he deluded by his own pretense?
There is certainly something pathological in the way Baba Nirala is written, but Bobby Deol’s performance is so stoic, lacking the charisma with which he can wrest unconditional love from his devotees. Why do people believe him? Are we supposed to, in a tiny corner of our minds, believe, too?
The last episode gives a sketchy backstory to him involving Nepal, a murder, and mutton curry, because in this world you don’t need to build your characters psychologically, but only stacking up events, which is why the proceedings are crowded with swerves of this-that. Someone dies. Someone is murdered. Someone is mauled. Or worse, someone is made a government minister. Just like that.