Man with a mis­sion

Fresh from the stu­pen­dous suc­cess of Dhoom 3, Bol­ly­wood star Aamir Khan is pre­par­ing to re­turn to the small screen for sea­son two of his record­break­ing tele­vi­sion show Satyamev Jay­athe. And this time it’s go­ing to be even bet­ter. By Divya Shetty and Anand

Friday - - Society -

The sto­ries were shock­ing, raw and deeply un­set­tling: A call cen­tre worker, Amisha Yag­nik from Ahmed­abad, western In­dia, de­scribed the trauma she had to un­dergo af­ter her hus­band’s fam­ily forced her to abort her foe­tuses – six times in eight years – only be­cause they were girls.

Parveen Khan, from Morena, Mad­hya Pradesh, her face deeply scarred, re­called how she was sav­agely bit­ten by her hus­band af­ter she gave birth to a girl child against his wishes.

School­child­ren in a vil­lage in north­ern In­dia whis­pered how they were forced by teach­ers to clean the school’s toi­lets and sit apart from other chil­dren only be­cause they be­long to a lower caste.

A widow re­vealed how her hus­band was mur­dered – for the crime of fall­ing in love with her and mar­ry­ing against her fam­ily’s wishes…

Th­ese were just some of the peo­ple who opened up their hearts on Bol­ly­wood su­per­star Aamir Khan’s ground­break­ing tele­vi­sion show Satyamev Jay­athe (truth alone pre­vails, in Hindi) to ex­pose first hand, some hor­ri­fy­ing ills that are still dog­ging In­dian so­ci­ety.

Clearly, there had never been any­thing quite like this on In­dian tele­vi­sion and more than 90 mil­lion peo­ple across the coun­try stayed awake way past 11pm on Sun­days to watch the diminu­tive star bring to their liv­ing rooms not just har­row­ing and heartrend­ing tales but also sto­ries of hope, for­ti­tude and hu­man re­silience.

“I wasn’t at­tempt­ing to change any­body’s life with the show,” says 48-year-old Aamir in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with Fri­day.

“As an en­ter­tainer I wanted to con­nect with the peo­ple but I also wanted to prove that en­ter­tain­ment need not only make peo­ple laugh ev­ery time. I wanted ev­ery fam­ily to watch the show and con­nect with it. And I’m glad that the peo­ple liked it.’’

The show not only struck a chord with view­ers but was pow­er­ful enough to echo in the ech­e­lons of power, goad­ing sev­eral state gov­ern­ments to take strin­gent ac­tion.

The gov­ern­ments in north­ern In­dian states such as Ra­jasthan and Haryana promptly ini­ti­ated mea­sures to curb fe­male foeti­cide, com­ing down hard on il­le­gal scan­ning cen­tres that were en­cour­ag­ing fe­male foeti­cide and shut­ting sev­eral down.

The Chief Min­is­ter of Mad­hya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, praised Aamir’s work and in­vited him to be a part of the gov­ern­ment’s ini­tia­tives on pre­vent­ing

fe­male foeti­cide. In south­ern In­dia, the gov­ern­ment of Kar­nataka, af­ter view­ing an episode that fea­tured the plight of poor pa­tients who were forced to buy pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive medicine for their health con­di­tions, im­me­di­ately set up fair price shops sell­ing medicine at highly sub­sidised prices.

In the cap­i­tal New Delhi, a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee also in­vited Aamir to share the knowl­edge he and his team gained while re­search­ing an episode on med­i­cal mal­prac­tice. One of the sug­ges­tions was for doc­tors to pre­scribe generic medicine in­stead of brands.

“I be­lieve Satyamev Jay­athe is the most sig­nif­i­cant thing that I have done in my 48 years. And I felt we should have a sec­ond sea­son,” Aamir says from his home in Mum­bai, fresh from the suc­cess of his com­mer­cial thriller movie Dhoom 3, which is set­ting records at the box of­fice. Sea­son two of Satyamev Jay­athe is sched­uled to be on TV soon.

“I feel very happy, proud and hum­bled that the show was such a suc­cess,’’ says Aamir, who in April last year was named one of the 100 most in­flu­en­tial peo­ple in the world by Time mag­a­zine and fea­tured on the cover of its Asian edi­tion.

“When we were shoot­ing sea­son one, we hadn’t even planned sea­son two. But now we have al­ready started talk­ing about sea­son three. We will be work­ing out a sched­ule ev­ery year and there will be a show. There may be fewer episodes ev­ery year but the plan is to have this ev­ery year.’’

The first sea­son was aired in eight In­dian lan­guages on nine chan­nels and within mo­ments of the first episode be­ing shown it be­gan trend­ing at num­ber one on Twit­ter in In­dia. Each episode is said to have cost more than Rs40 mil­lion (Dh2,390,692) to pro­duce (com­pared to a prime-time soap, which costs around Rs1 mil­lion) and a 10-sec­ond ad spot re­port­edly went for Rs100,000. Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions gi­ant, Air­tel, is said to have forked out Rs180 mil­lion for the ti­tle spon­sor rights.

Aamir is said to have charged Rs30 mil­lion per episode, far more than any star – in­clud­ing Shah Rukh Khan, Sal­man Khan and Amitabh Bachchan – has de­manded for be­ing an an­chor on a show that had top rat­ings.

Al­though clearly thrilled with the view­er­ship, the one-movie-a-year-star non­cha­lantly says, “I don’t re­late to rat­ings. What mat­ters to me are the on-ground changes, the var­i­ous gov­ern­ments that have re­acted, the doc­tors in Ra­jasthan who have banded to­gether to ad­vise their

‘I feel very happy, proud and hum­bled that the show was such a suc­cess’

er­rant col­leagues to change... This is what I set out to do and that it can hap­pen on this scale is what thrills me.

“But it’s won­der­ful to see so many peo­ple’s at­ti­tudes chang­ing around you. I think one of the big­gest ac­com­plish­ments of the show is it en­cour­ages us to pub­licly de­bate is­sues that oth­er­wise we don’t dis­cuss, that we’re very un­com­fort­able talk­ing about pub­licly.’’

While his show held up a mir­ror to some of the ills plagu­ing In­dian so­ci­ety, it also por­trayed amaz­ing sto­ries of per­se­ver­ance: of a young woman Su­nitha Krishnan, who was

gang-raped at the age of 16 and left for dead, but sur­vived to set up an or­gan­i­sa­tion that helps stop traf­fick­ing of women; of a street-side veg­etable ven­dor who lost her hus­band be­cause there were no doc­tors to help in her vil­lage but who put all her sav­ings into build­ing a hos­pi­tal treat­ing peo­ple free of cost; of a cou­ple who were so dev­as­tated by the sights they wit­nessed in the af­ter­math of the 2001 Kutch earth­quake that they de­cided to take in 56 chil­dren and look af­ter them as their own in their house…

“I wanted to por­tray sto­ries of hope as well,’’ Aamir says.

Off-screen the show had some tragic con­se­quences too. A few months af­ter a young cou­ple, Ab­dul Hakim and his wife Me­hwish, ap­peared on Satyamev Jay­athe and talked about the threat to their lives be­cause they had mar­ried with­out their par­ents’ con­sent, the man was shot dead in his vil­lage in Uttar Pradesh.

“They were scared even be­fore they came on the show,’’ Aamir says. “The in­ci­dent is highly un­for­tu­nate and shame­ful.”

But mak­ing so­cially rel­e­vant shows is not Aamir’s only forte. While prov­ing that he can make in­tel­li­gent movies – La­gaan, Taare Za­meen

Par, among oth­ers – that set the cash reg­is­ters ring­ing, he was also not averse to act­ing in full-length com­mer­cial pot­boil­ers like the most re­cent Dhoom 3. “I chose to act in Dhoom 3 be­cause I loved the script. I was ex­cited by it.”

Al­though he be­gan as a child artist in his di­rec­tor un­cle Nasir Hus­sain’s film Yaadon ki

Baraat (pro­ces­sion of mem­o­ries) in 1973, his first com­mer­cial suc­cess as a hero was in the 1988 run­away hit Qaya­mat se Qaya­mat Tak (from doom to doom) which earned him an award for best male de­but. Movie of­fers soon came flood­ing his way and it did not take long for 1.68m-tall Aamir to be la­belled the Tom Hanks of In­dia.

But he quickly made it clear that he would be picky when it came to choos­ing roles. “Af­ter

Qaya­mat se Qaya­mat Tak, I got a lot of movies that I ac­cepted but I was quite un­happy do­ing a few. So very early in my ca­reer, around the early 90s, I de­cided I would not do any­thing that I was not happy do­ing. I only wanted to do films I com­pletely be­lieved in,’’ says the star who was hon­oured with the fourth-high­est civil­ian award in In­dia, the Padma Shri, in 2003 for his con­tri­bu­tion to the arts.

The strat­egy worked and even as his films were pick­ing up awards they were also prov­ing to be com­mer­cial suc­cesses – a rar­ity in Bol­ly­wood, where com­mer­cial and crit­i­cal suc­cess don’t of­ten go hand in hand.

Al­though known for his pen­chant for choos­ing movies with a strong so­cial mes­sage – Taare Za­meen Par (stars on earth), which high­lighted is­sues spe­cial needs chil­dren face in so­ci­ety, and 3 Id­iots, which subtly and with gen­er­ous doses of hu­mour brought to light the in­ad­e­qua­cies in the In­dian ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem – Aamir points out he has also acted in movies that don’t have a strong so­cial mes­sage.

“Movies with mes­sages are not some­thing I look for all the time. In fact there have been sev­eral which did not have a so­cial mes­sage as such – Delhi Belly, Fanaa or Ga­jini. They re­volved around strong emo­tions. I look for plots that ex­cite me, which touch me.’’

One that did was of an epic sports drama set in colo­nial times. Turn­ing pro­ducer, he made

La­gaan in which he also starred and which crit­ics as well as cin­ema go­ers loved. It was even cho­sen as In­dia’s en­try for the Os­cars.

3 Id­iots fol­lowed soon af­ter and was a mega hit and it set peo­ple think­ing about the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and of bring­ing about changes in their mind­set.

How­ever, Aamir makes it clear that 3 Id­iots was not the in­spi­ra­tion for Satyamev Jay­athe. “The idea of a tele­vi­sion show had been on my mind for some time. It just came to fruition at the right time,” he says.

He says work­ing on Satyamev Jay­athe has been a fas­ci­nat­ing and mind-ex­pand­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “This jour­ney has been ex­cit­ing and ex­tremely emo­tional for me. It’s also been a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery. I feel I’ve un­der­stood the peo­ple of this coun­try bet­ter now.’’

Aamir’s easy, in­for­mal style of pre­sen­ta­tion, al­low­ing the sub­jects to tell their story and not be­ing afraid to re­veal his emo­tions on cam­era, made the show all the more ap­peal­ing.

“I am an emo­tional per­son and I cry eas­ily,’’ ad­mits the star, who is mar­ried to film­maker Ki­ran Rao and has three chil­dren – Ju­naid, 21, and Ira, 16, from his first mar­riage to Reena Dutta, and Azad Rao, two, with Ki­ran.

“I don’t be­lieve in hiding my emo­tions,” he says. “If I am happy, I laugh and if I am sad, I cry. Some­times when I watch a film that is mov­ing I cry.”

The for­mat he adopted for the first TV sea­son is the one he says will con­tinue this sea­son as

well. “But there will be two things that will be dif­fer­ent this year. The last time we got a great re­sponse and we re­alised that peo­ple are con­nect­ing with the show at a deeper level. So this time we are far more charged.

“Last time we had pointed out the so­cial is­sues and talked about what we can do. But we felt that some peo­ple even though they have good in­ten­tions, need more di­rect call to ac­tion.

“There are so many peo­ple among us who want to get in­volved but don’t know how to. They say ‘I am not a so­cial ac­tivist, I have a busy life but I want to get in­volved in some prac­ti­cal way that won’t be too in­con­ve­nient.’

“So this time we have woven ways in which each one of us can con­trib­ute with­out hav­ing to change the way we live our lives. We have made the call to ac­tion eas­ier and thus the level of con­tri­bu­tion goes up.

“The other change is that we will not have 13 episodes at a go. We will break the year into four quar­ters and each quar­ter of the year

‘I don’t see my­self as a saviour. I see my­self as some­one who is just try­ing to learn’

will have one month of Satyamev Jay­athe on tele­vi­sion. Each of the is­sues we are cov­er­ing is so huge that we will have four or five episodes a month then take a break so all this can sink in to the minds of peo­ple and changes can be ini­ti­ated. We think this will help peo­ple un­der­stand is­sues bet­ter rather than cram­ming them with one is­sue af­ter another ev­ery week.’’ Al­though he is the hero of block­buster

Dhoom 3, Aamir says it is his tele­vi­sion show that “has en­riched my life. What­ever I have given to the show, it has given me back 10 times. I feel ab­so­lutely blessed to be part of this.

“I un­der­stand my coun­try bet­ter, I un­der­stand the forces bet­ter. I get to meet the most amaz­ing peo­ple who on the face of it may ap­pear pow­er­less, but are ac­tu­ally gi­ants. Some of them may not be ed­u­cated but the strength of char­ac­ter that they pos­sess is sim­ply re­mark­able. There are some peo­ple who show so much brav­ery even in the face of poverty and stress­ful con­di­tions that I some­times won­der if I would be as brave, even though I am in a bet­ter sit­u­a­tion fi­nan­cially.’’

Does he think that peo­ple have be­come more po­lit­i­cally and so­cially re­spon­si­ble of late, par­tic­u­larly af­ter a new, com­mon man’s gov­ern­ment came to power in Delhi?

“For sure,’’ he says. “Ac­tu­ally for me this re­al­i­sa­tion that the peo­ple are ready for a po­lit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion hap­pened in sea­son one.

“The peo­ple’s re­sponse to the show was phe­nom­e­nal. That gave me an in­di­ca­tion that things are chang­ing on the ground. Peo­ple had this de­sire to change but just didn’t know how to go about it. They just needed guid­ance. “The fact that they came out in such large num­ber on the streets dur­ing the Delhi rape case it­self is an in­di­ca­tion that peo­ple are ready to take ac­tion for change. I am glad that peo­ple are want­ing to be part of a move­ment where they are part of the gov­er­nance.”

So does he con­sider him­self as a saviour of In­dia?

“I don’t see my­self as a saviour,’’ he says. “I see my­self as some­one who is just try­ing to learn and this is a per­sonal jour­ney for me. A jour­ney for en­rich­ing my own life and in the process, un­der­stand­ing my coun­try bet­ter and the is­sues fac­ing us to­gether and the is­sues af­fect­ing our so­ci­ety.

“In the process of learn­ing about those things I’m hop­ing to share that with peo­ple. That’s all I’m do­ing.’’ Does he think that In­di­ans are star ob­sessed? “I think the au­di­ences are,’’ he says. “But that’s fine. I am star ob­sessed. I am a big fan of Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan), Dilip Ku­mar. I have been star-struck my­self and I don’t think there’s any­thing wrong in that.’’ And does he have any re­grets? No, says Aamir. “Some of my films may not have done well but I learnt from them. I give my fail­ures as much im­por­tance as my suc­cesses.’’

Aamir’s most re­cent film Dhoom 3 is a run­away suc­cess

Aamir with his wife Ki­ran Rao

Aamir, seen with son Ju­naid, says he is not shy to show emo­tion

Aamir talks to Nishit Ku­mar of Childline In­dia Foun­da­tion about sex­ual abuse

Praveen Khan, whose hus­band bit her face be­cause she

had a baby girl

Satyamev Jay­athe is the best thing I’ve done, says Aamir

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.