When it comes to directing films about politics and social issues, one name that immediately crosses our head is Prakash Jha, the director of this fictional but very real series, ‘Ashram’. The famous Prakash Jha after directing hit films like Gangajal, Rajneeti and Satyagrah, has made his debut in web series with ‘Ashram’ and it would be safe to say the audience is stunned with the beautiful direction.
This story revolves around Bobby Deol playing Baba Nirala Singh of Kashipur, a religious guru who claims to be the messiah of those in need. Be it social incompetence or bodily malfunction, casteism or the income gap, Baba Nirala had a solution for it all. The beginning of the series had the otherwise skeptical audience believe in the goodness of the baba. Sounds uncanny, right? Well, it is. The story moved forward to reveal the behind the curtain scenes of some not so godly purposes behind those ‘acts of god.’
In our country, when it comes to faith, followers flood in blindly, without reasoning or logic. Well, so was the case that worked in favor of Baba Nirala. In the name of belief and religion, Baba Nirala had wrapped around his fingers not just the poor and helpless, but the oh-so-powerful politicians and businessmen. Again, anything when it comes to religion, right? Religion has always been a tool to make people foolishly support an immoral agenda in this country and the series beautifully portrays it.
On similar grounds, the web series came with a disclaimer implying that it aims to not target any particular religion or godman, while simultaneously respecting the few good ones. Even though there are still some people pointing fingers on the series in the name of disparaging a particular religion and blotting on religious gurus, most people have welcomed it with an open mind (and arms).
Though the series doesn’t explicitly claim to be based on real events or a particular religious guru, the storyline has the audience taking their guesses.
In the words of Baba Nirala “I don’t sermonize, I preach…. about peace.” However, his actions don’t quite match the words. The series very gently puts forward the real agendas of the Baba, uncovering his business of disguised hypocrisy and illegal, let alone unreligious, activities. A link between the Ashram, crime, and politics start to emerge. A link so strong that it poses 2 questions among his followers and well, the audience, “Bhakti ya Bhrashtachar?, Aastha ya Apraadh?“.
However, the link is not so sorted and digs with itself some very heinous truths and well-covered acts. The rest of the series uncovers those links in detail and has the audience hooked to it till the very last minute.
Despite following a plotline, the series has many layers that make the audience question some very real aspects of our society. One gets to learn as much as he enjoys the impeccable cinematography. Following are the realizations which hit the audience and put them to thinking during and after the show-
- The Fight in India is not just between Hindu-Muslim- It is widely presumed that India houses mass disparities between Hindu and Muslim communities. But, let me tell you, the divide is not just limited to these two common nouns; it’s way wider than that. Hindus compete among themselves as well. Another popular divide is General vs. Scheduled castes or scheduled Tribes.
- Religion has always been used to make people fool- Religion is the most sensitive nerve of our country. It’s extremely easy to trigger it. And such people, who are starving for power and money, use it as a tool to accomplish their own motives.
- Police, Politicians, and the government work only to fill in their pockets- The police in India has always been used as a tool to torture and overpower people instead of protecting the masses from any kind of unjust. Politicians sell the public property to large corporates and fill their own pockets with the green paper received in the form of bribes to do things in a legalized way. There’s incessant bidding going on in politics to buy and sell MLAs & MPs to form the government. Proving the fact that public votes have no value and MLAs join parties that pay them more.
- Even the court and Law & order are speechless in front of Religion- People believe in Babas and godman more than law and order. The series shows how politicians use these self-proclaimed godmen & religious gurus to influence and manipulate voters in the name of religion because people believe godmen more than law and order and well, it can be easily traced from the recent events in our country. The representation of Baba Nirala’s authority over the policemen painted a picture of how those in power assert dominance over the carriers of justice to stand with injustice, owing to their greed and need for power.
- People in power including police, politicians know very well to play with the law- The series also plausibly uncovers the rigidly knotted links between crime, politics, and power. The exploitation of laws by those in power to bend them according to their convenience and greed has been radically introduced in various parts of the series. For example, politicians selling public property to large corporates and filling their own pockets with the illegally earned money and people at positions such as IAS & IPS taking bribes from people for their power and influence. We see it every day in our lives but we don’t talk about it. Well, the series showed that it’s high time we start doing it.
- Investigation reports can also be modified as per desire – The series gives a close look at many real-life issues that we, as a society, need to address. In the series, they’ve been shown misusing their powers, with involvement in many crimes. Even the postmortem reports in India can be made as per wish, changed, suppressed, or hidden.
- These Babas are involved in more evil than faith- It is not hidden that Godmans and babas have been involved in communal violence, smuggling, sex rackets in India, and have enjoyed sex, money, political powers. Their followers have provided the same to them in the name of blind faith. Honeytrap is quite famous to suppress enemies and Women can work where even the atom bombs do not work.
- Media & Police have never supported each other in the fair investigation- This is indeed a critical issue in our society. Media, the fourth pillar of democracy, should be sensitive as well as unbiased while the police are supposed to protect people and not be a threat to them. However, in reality, this looks too much to ask for. Many a time, the Police force itself is involved in the most corrupt activities and misuse of powers.
- IAS & IPS take dowry as per their positions and influences- What will you do when the saviors of law become the misusers? The series throws the light on malice and malign conduct of people sitting on such high posts. Independent Organizations like CBI, NCB, NIA, are most corrupt and are the parrots in the hands of the ruling government
- Youth In India had always been confused, deviated.- Nothing’s bigger than blind supporters forming your vote bank. The youth always remains in the target zone of all these powerful people, who manipulate, deviate, and intrigue them towards evil. Politicians have always used Godman & Baba to influence and manipulate voters in the name of Religion. Unemployed Youth is manipulated or blackmailed in such a way that they end up getting involved in illegal acts such as selling it consuming drugs.
- Women had always been used by politicians, godman & babas as sexual objects – It cannot be stressed enough that women have been objectified, assaulted, and harassed by these pretentious religious men for a very long time now. It is no secret that these so-called godmen are involved in communal violence, human trafficking, and sex rackets. The way the series pulls out these threads is undoubtedly praise worthy and makes the audience introspect and question what all we, as a society, have considered being ‘normal’.
Ranging from the Baba’s pretense and his formation of a huge follower base to the plight of Dalits and poor, the series has some very hard takes. There’s one line in the series that goes, “We are scared, that is why they suppress us.” Well, the entire storyline urges the audience in loud, bold words to not be scared, not anymore.
Undoubtedly, the messiah had some very dark secrets. After all, “He’s not a godman, he’s a conman.” Though the series has 9 episodes of about 45 minutes each, every episode ends with the audience wondering about the next and well, so does the last episode. After all, how is it a secret if it is revealed too soon? The series ends on a high note, leaving the audience waiting for the next season.