THE POWER OF ONE

Will Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jay­ate be the show that changes the sta­tus quo, asks SU­NAINA KUMAR

Tehelka - - TELEVISION -

INA 2006 in­ter­view to TEHELKA, Aamir Khan de­clared in all earnest­ness that the only chan­nel he watches is Do­or­dar­shan, be­cause he finds it calm­ing. “No dra­mat­ics, no the­atrics, no deep sighs, no wip­ing of tears!” Per­haps the seed of the idea was in his mind even then. Six years later, Aamir Khan made his tele­vi­sion de­but si­mul­ta­ne­ously on Star TV Net­work and Do­or­dar­shan, with a mix of au­dac­ity, aplomb and prom­ise. Sans the dra­mat­ics and the­atrics he ab­jured, Satyamev Jay­ate was heavy on wip­ing of tears. The tears opened a con­ver­sa­tion, an in­tro­spec­tion, and that’s what he was hop­ing for.

In ret­ro­spect, the mar­ket­ing blitzkrieg was jus­ti­fi­able. It en­sured that ev­ery­one woke up on Sun­day morn­ing to see Aamir at the mytho­log­i­cal hour of 11 am, a slot we hold close to our hearts. The be­liev­ers be­cause they be­lieved, the non-be­liev­ers to prove the for­mer wrong. Then, on 6 May, an un­usual thing hap­pened; cyn­ics be­came be­liev­ers. Aamir left view­ers with lit­tle choice, he made it less about him­self, more about us. The week since, we have re­sponded ex­actly how he ex­pected us to, on main­stream me­dia, so­cial me­dia and in ca­sual chats and im­pas­sioned tirades, with all our heart, dil se, just as we were asked to do.

The Face­book page for Satyamev Jay­ate had 6,41,707 likes by Tues­day. On Twit­ter, the show gen­er­ated the sin­gle largest reach for any In­dian con­tent so far (ac­cord­ing to dig­i­tal me­dia com­pany Pin­storm, it over­took the other big move­ments Barkha­gate and Anna Hazare with a reach of 20 mil­lion). On Sun­day the web­site for the show crashed twice, it be­came the top search in In­dia on Google Trends, and in a span of a day as so­cial sci­en­tist Shiv Vis­vanathan said, “Aamir be­came the most well-known so­ci­ol­o­gist in the coun­try.” He ties it to Aamir’s ear­lier ex­per­i­ments with na­tional and so­cial is­sues, as brand am­bas­sador for In­cred­i­ble In­dia’s Atithi Devo Bhava cam­paign, his clar­ion call to ap­a­thetic youth with Rang De Bas­anti, rais­ing sen­si­tiv­ity to dis­abil­ity through Taare Zameen Par, cri­tiquing our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in 3 Idiots, and in­volv­ing him­self with po­lar­is­ing projects like Nar­mada Bachao An­dolan and the Anna Hazare move­ment.

In Satyamev Jay­ate, we see him as some­one who has ac­quired supreme con­fi­dence about his point of view and his abil­ity to con­vince oth­ers of it, oc­ca­sion­ally pedan­tic, mostly re­strained. So­cial com­men­ta­tor San­tosh De­sai says it is the “con­sum­mate mar­keter” in him. To sell the show he tapped into a rhetoric of “har Hin­dus­tani”. Ben­jamin Zachariah, a

his­to­rian at Univer­sity of Sh­effield, says, “He knows that the best way to en­able his cri­tique of na­tional life is by em­pha­sis­ing his na­tion­al­ism. It cre­ates the le­git­i­macy he needs to raise dif­fi­cult is­sues.”

The first episode tack­led sex se­lec­tion and fe­male foeti­cide with an un­re­lent­ing fo­cus on the sub­ject and no al­lowance for en­ter­tain­ment. The field is now wide open; there is spec­u­la­tion that starv­ing farm­ers, ur­ban slums, cor­rup­tion could all fall un­der Aamir’s hawk-eyed scru­tiny. Akhila Si­vadas of the Cen­tre for Ad­vo­cacy and Re­search, who has been re­search­ing fe­male foeti­cide for 10 years, stands by the mes­sage of the show. “The is­sue of fe­male foeti­cide has reached un­sus­tain­able lev­els. He broke many myths, for ex­am­ple the ten­dency of the mid­dle-class to blame all so­cial ills on the un­e­d­u­cated, or those from small towns. Yes, a com­plex is­sue has been over-sim­pli­fied, but when you do it on a pop­u­lar level, you play it at that level.” For many who have worked on the is­sue, the show’s great­est strength, the sim­plis­tic ap­proach to a com­plex prob­lem, is also its great­est weak­ness. There are mur­murs about women’s right to abor­tion not be­ing given con­sid­er­a­tion and a pa­tri­ar­chal bent in the con­tent, where a woman is val­ued as a life giver and part­ner of men, mainly in the seg­ment show­ing sin­gle men from a Haryana vil­lage.

For many, the show’s for­mat of an ex­tended public ser­vice an­nounce­ment (circa Do­or­dar­shan of the 1970s and ’80s) is a nov­elty. A post-lib­er­al­i­sa­tion gener-

For many, the show’s strength, a sim­plis­tic ap­proach to a com­plex prob­lem, is also its great­est weak­ness

ation that has grown up out­side of the in­flu­ence of state tele­vi­sion, and dis­en­gaged from so­cial is­sues, is for the first time ac­cess­ing a show like this on cable tele­vi­sion. “The irony is that for a mid­dle class that takes its film stars and crick­eters se­ri­ously, only Aamir Khan could have put fe­male foeti­cide on prime time, while oth­ers might cry them­selves hoarse,” says ac­tor Gul Panag. Me­dia per­son­al­ity Pri­tish Nandy says, “Satyamev Jay­ate falls in the crack be­tween news and en­ter­tain­ment. What it needs now is more jour­nal­is­tic mus­cle, cut­ting edge, less tears and more dis­pas­sion­ate re­port­ing. If Aamir wants Satyamev Jay­ate to be taken se­ri­ously, he must be­have on screen like a real jour­nal­ist, not some­one try­ing to ma­nip­u­late the au­di­ence’s emo­tions. That is the ac­tor’s job.”

SATYAMEV JAY­ATE is one of the most lav­ishly pro­duced shows on In­dian tele­vi­sion, a show that uniquely mar­ries so­cial and com­mer­cial con­sid­er­a­tions. Much has been made about the cost of pro­duc­tion of the show, the mar­ket­ing jug­ger­naut, the ad­ver­tis­ing rates and the fee Aamir is charg­ing, even though he has an­nulled all his ad­ver­tis­ing con­tracts for the year on eth­i­cal grounds. On Twit­ter, quips were made about how the show should be dubbed Satya “Meva” Jay­ate.

It taps into the zeit­geist of dis­sat­is­fac­tion in the mid­dle­class of the coun­try. Will it do more as it moves from one is­sue to the next? Is one week enough to re­form deep-rooted prob­lems? Each week an NGO will be iden­ti­fied for do­na­tions made through the show, and the web­site car­ries in­struc­tions for how you can help. San­tosh De­sai feels that the show lulls us into a false sense of ac­tion, by SMS- ing Yes or No. “Yet, it le­git­imises change and that is a pow­er­ful con­tri­bu­tion.” The com­ing Sun­days will com­plete the story.

Hor­ror sto­ries Parveen Khan was forced to abort her child

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