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Aashram 2: An interesting play out of events; grimmer and sharper than before

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In Kashipur (Uttar Pradesh), Baba Nirala Ji Maharaj aka Baba Kashipur Wale’s (Bobby Deol) reign of terror continues and, in fact, gets grimmer than ever. With Baba’s hand over his head, there’s obviously no stopping Bhopa (Chandan Roy Sanyal) either. Babita (Tridha Choudhury) is a changed woman now, and Pammi’s (Aditi Pohankar) life has completely changed. On the other hand, characters that remained silent throughout season one – like Sanobar and Kavita – are now mustering up the courage to vocalise their back stories. Ujagar Singh’s (Darshan Kumaar) on a mission, spearheaded by Dr. Natasha Kataria (Anupriya Goenka), and Akki (Rajeev Siddhartha) is not the one to bog down. The part two of this crime-drama sheds light on two aspects of Baba’s many organised crimes: sexual exploitation and drugs fostering.

Unlike its maiden instalment – where a plethora of social evils were being juggled simultaneously– in the latest offering, Prakash Jha focuses on two glaring issues: both alarming and urgent, detailed and impactful. While the tonality remains more or less the same – Baba wreaking havoc in his usual calm demeanour — with droopy eyes and arched eyebrows — Bhopa instilling fear with his sharp tongue and the duo’s ‘chamchaas’ abusing one and all. However, this time around, the deviation lies in its execution: the pace, slow, and the undertones, vividly explained. Set at 30 to 35 minutes each, all the nine episodes of ‘Aashram 2’ are much tighter than its predecessors although the story moves rather leisurely.

Writers Madhvi Bhatt, Avinash Kumar, Sanjay Masoomm, Kuldeep Ruhil have inculcated the sub-theme of love in some of these beaten and dejected characters’ lives and interestingly, Baba shows signs of harbouring emotions in his heart, too – though twisted. Characters like Sanobar (Preeti Sood) and Kavita (Anurita Jha) undergo an ocean of change in their personalities and the intrigue around them diminishes as they get their closures in the form of confrontations. Even before Baba declares, “Yeh chudail hain, sabko kha jayegi,” we kind of know his ‘vinaash’ is just round the corner but, thanks to some clever writing, with so many planners and plotters, we could not predict who is exacting revenge and how.

The theme of systematic abuse of women and the tactics administered to prevent them from speaking up is one that needs to reach far and wide, and Jha, with his gang of writers, leave no stone unturned to drive this point home. The smaller characters could have done away with the melodrama but, then again, there’s no mellow way of portraying a drug addict or a religious fanatic.

Bobby Deol is still in his top-notch form and holds on to the spell he had cast in season one – both literally and figuratively. Chandan Roy Sanyal turns out to be the henchman no sane person would want to cross paths with. The women brigade – comprising Aditi Pohankar, Tridha Choudhury, Anurita Jha, Preeti Sood and Anupriya Goenka – render stellar performances, especially the breakdown scenes of Aaditi’s and Tridha’s face-offs. Goenka’s Niharika takes a backseat in terms of pushing the narrative forward but is nonetheless a key player in bringing the culprits down. Darshan Kumaar is an out-and-out undercover junkie and his hunger for justice is palpable, and Rajeev Siddhartha is seething for he has been wronged; the actor is his finer self in season two. Adhyaman Suman, on the other hand, is a troubled rockstar on a collaborative tour with Baba; because of all the screaming and jumping around he does, we do not really get to see much of Suman as an actor.

A special mention to Chandan Kowli for an excellent work behind the camera and giving the series the royalty feels. Likewise, kudos to production designer Udai Prakash Singh for erecting a set straight out of a period drama without making the visuals overbearing for its viewers. One scene in particular comes to mind, where the megalomaniac of a Godman, Baba ji, goes to a ghat for an event – the lake is beautifully lit with diyas all over its water body, with garlands adorning its bricks and walls, when Deol turns around and says, “Japnaam japnaam…” That portion was shot so wonderfully that it’s etched in our minds. Inder Bawra, Sunny Bawra and Advait Nemlekar’s background score is blending but too dramatic on several occasions.

‘Aashram 2’ is rage, revenge and redemption, but most importantly, it internalises the saying that silence is never the answer. In conclusion, we would like to say that yes, the second part of this cult-centred drama doesn’t have anything new to offer in terms of plot progression but it was refreshing to see these battered souls deriving peace one way or the other. And, just to that, we say, ‘Japnaam!’

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