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Satyamev Jayate

 Chicken soup for the sudden socially conscious soul?



Even as Aamir Khan’s novel TV Show becomes the new rage, questions arise over it’s authenticity, it’s impact and mostly over its intentions. Even as Aamir Khan is being hailed as messiah, comparisions are being made about the show’s similarity with the Oprah Winfrew Show. Even as the show undoubtedly increases awareness about social issues, skeptics question whether it will really change anything. Shaonli Nath splits herself into two to try and present both sides of the picture.


VIEW 

In 1990 Amartya Sen first spoke about the missing girls of South Asia.  It took 22 years and countless dead girls for the nation to gain a firm cognizance of this problem challenging the country’s fundamental morals and demographics. Medical malpractice, dowry, child abuses are much discussed clichés in our social circles. But it takes more than mere demonstrations, slogans and elite activism to make an impact. It requires careful research crafted into effective communication to strike the right chords. And that is what Satyamev Jayate has precisely done.


Pundits questioning the treatment of subject in the show are missing that SMJ isn’t meant for Oxford read sociologists but for the common man. The common man will not understand a 90 minute thesis on a social problem, but a comprehensive treatment in a methodological manner will just drive the point home. The simple objective approach of the show is lucidly appealing: Problem Statement, examples, causes, statistical figures, short term effects, long term effects, possible solutions, examples of solutions. In first observation the straight format might seem stale, but the accompanying clarity of such a simple format is the catalyst for reaching out to the intended audience: more than 1 crore hits on YouTube and 10 lakh fans on Facebook, the audience without internet or 3G that was reached can’t be calculated on basis of select sample space.

The Indian television medium has turned into a disgusting quagmire of ill-scripted family dramas with opulent havelis and garishly dressed women and perverse reality shows which feed on TRPs generated by scripted shocks. TV shows like ‘Balika Vadhu’ and ‘Na Aana Iss Des Lado’ started with crisp social themes but in due course of time and TRPs, lost the creative battle to shoddy story lines and unscrupulous cliffhangers. In the midst of such chaotic mediocrity, when a fresh show that honestly unfolds complex social issues in front of its viewers runs into such acerbic criticism, it is not only disturbing, but rather shows the cynical compulsion to deride we Indians cumulatively suffer from.

Aamir Khan is no stranger to social causes. Fanaa was banned in Gujarat for his stance on the Narmada river. Rang de Basanti, Taree Zameen Par, Peepli Live; Aamir Khan’s films have become a subtle social crusade in themselves, a rare phenomenon in a league of actors living in bail after killing endangered animals and pavement dwellers in the same vein. Aamir using his star personality to spearhead a mission requires appreciation, and not mind- numbing scrutiny in the name of freedom of expression. Laughingly enough, SMJ has been linked with Aamir’s future presidential interests. A man who rejected film awards at the peak of his career deserves more credibility than being considered a semi- megalomaniac. Cynics find it objectionable that Aamir charges 3 crores per episode, but they don’t seem to remember the 150 crore which Amitabh Bachchan has gathered over 3 seasons of KBC and the 3 crore per episode quote of Salman Khan for Dus Ka Dam. If money indeed mattered to him, Aamir could have easily hosted a reality show. He didn’t have to spend 2 years of his life on this project. Commercial benefit doesn’t translate into a lack of purpose.

Yes, everyone is entitled to have an opinion: The Indian Oprah, staged phony drama, paid studio audience, glycerine tears, accusations can be many. But at the end of the day, SMJ challenges the status quo: of run of the mill shows, of having accepted our social evils as clichés, of the deep rooted “Chalta Hai”. People sat up and noticed. A bill got passed immediately and medical licenses got cancelled, genuine examples of pro-active results of the show. If the painfully rendered ‘Ori Chidaiyya’ could make 10 families contemplating feticide turn back on their decisions, we should deem this show a success.

For heaven’s sake, let us not shoot the messenger this time folks!

COUNTERVIEW

Sunday is supposed to be the day of indolence, of quiet lazy reflections, and old MGM movies. But sometime back incessant visual and TV teasers forced millions of inquisitive Indians to check out this new show on Star Plus (or any of the many channels). You sit sharp at 11 am, la old Mahabharata days, just as how its creator visualized. Yawn! I am forced to go through a 90 minutes stifling sordid melodrama of scripted tears, heavy predictable discussions and a solution at the end. Yes! A magic solution, jadu ki chhadi for all the problems that have baffled activists and governments for years. Doordarshan style sets, teary eyed audience and a control freak of a host who resembles that confident internet meme guy striking a pose in suit. Bi*** please. Journalism and activism is serious business. Social issues don’t have utopian solutions but rather they are challenges that need decades of dedicated efforts to be eradicated.


The primary problem of this show starts with its oh-too-neat structure sprinkled with flakes of cheesy Bollywood moments. How a group of  35 year olds in Haryana have remained unmarried because there are no girls remaining around! How a mother-in-law pushed the cradle of the baby girl down the stairs to be followed by close-ups of horrified audience. The host proceeds to envisage a society like that of movie Mrityudand where women are commodities, and gender violence is the precedent of the day; too many tropes, too many artificial emotive interjections. And the worst of it all is that when one would expect such clichéd drama to be wholly and originally Indian, the show’s execution style has been copied component by component from Oprah Winfrey’s show.

A minute analysis of the show’s content throws up criminal mistakes. Did Aamir Khan think of the possibility of future sex offenders and traffickers in Haryana possibly using his arguments as their defense? Tomorrow a rapist from a Haryana village can possibly quote that the lack of women made his libido go for a frenzy and hence he committed the crime. The lack of proper sociological introspection of the communicated message beforehand can do more harm than good. Use of terms like “murder in the womb” raises serious concerns in context of woman’s right to choose. Rather than strictly condemning sex-selective abortions, the episode ends up giving abortions a heinous color in 90 minutes. In a country where women are fighting for their rights over their wombs, this can be counterproductive and dangerous. With such generalizations, we are moving towards a situation where a woman who validly wants to abort because of medical or otherwise reasons will be prevented from doing so if the fetus is a girl. Such abrupt generalizations strangulate the rights of woman over her body. 

The show’s manipulative presentation and populist agendas fails to be diagnostic and ends up merely scraping the surface of the issues with messiah like dialogues and one-dimensional quick fix solutions. So far, Aamir has taken up typically popular issues, with no possible confusion or arguments over the right or wrong. Going forward can Aamir take up controversial yet critical subjects: Same Gothra marriage, Dowry laws misuse, Quota system, Kashmir, Maoists?  It will be interesting to see so.

The financial transactions surrounding this show raise suspicions on its holier-than-thou projections. Rupert Murdoch owned Star group is telecasting the show, prime sponsors are shelling out 10 to 16 crores, a ten second advertisement spot causes 10 lakhs and Mr. Khan charges 3 crores for each episode. All this for feeding the mass population with sanctimonious preaching, almost like chicken soup for the sudden socially conscious soul!

These 13 guilt trips led by Aamir Khan might make our Sunday afternoon discussions more informative, and discussing our individual social responsibility might be the next cool thing since X-Box 360. But it will take more than social crusades on an idiot box to bring in a real change.  Aamir has perhaps already moved on to his next project since. What are we doing? Sirf Dil pe lagne se baat nahi banegi.  Dimaag bhi lagaana padega.

 

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