In a way Prakash Jha spilled the beans in the first part of the series. How it began is exactly how the second chapter of Aashram would have climaxed was perhaps a foregone conclusion. Since you already know what will happen to Pammi (Aaditi Pohankar) whose andhbhakti is what sustains conmen-turned-godmen like Nirala baba, you don’t quite sit on tenterhooks.
Yes, you expect more which you don’t get. Yet, the astute director that Jha is, he keeps you invested and engaged even if the part two does not offer any more insight into the life of Nirala baba. His uncanny resemblance to a real one closer home bears no repetition even though the makers (via an extended disclaimer) and the actor (Bobby Deol) playing him continue to insist it is fiction. So, be it. Only real godman, who is currently behind the bars, or not, the proceedings remain erringly close to reality. Precisely why even in its diluted form, it has impact.
However, while the tagline of the second part hints at some dark secrets, as far as baba Nirala goes, there is little abominable aspect of his we haven’t seen in the first one. He is a sexual predator; the first part underlined so. Hence driving home the same does not make it any more intriguing or repugnant. He exploits his followers is a given too. Certainly, here the game gets bigger as he also gets the better of equally manipulative politicians.
In fact, more than the dark side of the baba, the series focuses on the baba-politician nexus. The darkness lies in the fact how politicians, feed off godmen and vice versa, again not exactly a revelation. Both opposition and ruling chief minister want his support and one tries to outsmart him too. But baba can’t be pushed into a corner. Or maybe, he can be? Like the real baba whose nemesis was a woman, here too dare we underestimate the power of a woman? The episode Moh Bhang is easily the best in the nine-part second outing, which is a faceoff of sorts between the baba’s clout and the female protagonist Pammi’s resolve. Forget Aaditi Pohankar’s mismatched Haryanvi accent, her steely determination shows as much in her eyes as in her body language. Bobby Deol might appear uncomfortable in certain bold scenes, yet he is at ease when playing the vile yet composed godman. A twitch here and a twinkle there, the glint in his eye matches the smile on his face. Of course, fine actors like Chandan Roy Sanyal do not get to do much. Yes, the way he addresses Nirala baba as Monty makes you chuckle. Yet, he is reduced to Man Friday whose only job is to cover up baba’s dirty deeds. Ditto for Anupria Goenka and Adhyayan Summan. Summan’s entry in the first series was pregnant with a promise, only it proved to be belied. Besides, certain sequences appear repetitive and slow down the pace. The cat and mouse game the cop (Darshan Kumaar) plays with other evil men of the ashram does bring in some drama and bite. But the real tension pulsates only when Pammi gets into action. Clearly, the real action has been reserved for the second season. Hope the new season picks up momentum and does not leave us with a feeling of déjà vu which is the prominent aftertaste here. Since the first outing, despite the familiarity of the story, did raise your hackles, you would like the story to reach a logical conclusion. In the unfolding of the baba’s misdeeds, part two ends up being more like a filler than a trajectory propelling it forward.