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Kudos, Aamir Khan: Satyamev Jayate

It was perhaps one of the most awaited TV programs in India. The top billing was because it is being helmed by India’s number one Bollywood star Aamir Khan, known to span commercial and meaningful cinema with equal élan and money making ability, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

Congress Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi
(Above): Aamir Khan on the sets of “Satyamev Jayate.”

Over the last few years there have been many Hindi movie stars that have made the transition to TV. They have been attracted by the large audience reach and the big profits that can be raked in.

Though India lacks in several development indices such as good health services and primary education, TV, telecom and fizzy drinks Pepsi, Coca Cola, pervade most of the country. The so named Bollywood “A listers” that have thus taken the TV plunge include Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, to name some. Any follower of Indian cinema would know that the above-mentioned stars invite top billing. Hindi film stars like cricketers are worshipped as Gods in India.

Most have, however, tried to fit into the TRP rating-driven TV programming devised by the so-called creative honchos that is the order of the day — hooking audiences by orchestrating high intensity drama on the screen that shocks, spooks and in general raises adrenalin levels.

In short, most of the stuff on offer is pretty much mindless, apart from the impressive range of some overseas channels such as BBC, Discovery or National Geographic that have a global focus.

Indian TV subscription packages today comprise the lot of soaps themed around unreal family intrigues that target the bored in the afternoon housewife looking to vicariously spice up their lives. Given the category of followers, the main protagonists of such serials are overdressed women scheming for men and money.

The multiple 24-hour Breaking News channels, meanwhile, exaggerate and sensationalize every bit of non-information, in what is termed as infotainment. Due to competition from TV serials, a lot of the grave human interest matters such as murder, suicide, love or marriages affairs gone awry, are dramatized into compelling story formats. In sports, slam bang T20 Cricket dominates. Lately, the bruising jaw breaking cage fighting with instant spurts of blood and gore has made its local debut.

In keeping with such degenerate TV philosophy, some of the top Bollywood actors have endorsed reality shows such as Bigg Boss that tend to assemble a rag tag group of loud-mouthed nobodies trying to attract attention via contrived quarrels, sexual chemistry and more brainless activity.

Congress Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi
(Above): Aamir Khan [Photo: Reuters]

Other stars have turned into quiz or game show hosts offering astronomical monetary gains to winners, cashing the get rich quick aspirations of a rising portion of Indian population. There are also quite a few celebrity interview formats, where the same sets of stars are recycled for their bytes on relationships, food, fitness regimen, hobbies and sex.

For the uninitiated, basing views about India watching the stuff aired on TV would be misleading. A majority of the country continues to be poor.

India grapples with many issues – poverty, disease, child labor, lack of civic amenities, highest rates of rape and road accidents, infrastructure issues, woeful health and education facilities. Infectious diseases such as TB abound. The airborne disease continues to kill two people every three minutes in the country every day, or nearly 1,000 deaths daily.

There was much interest in Aamir’s foray into TV. Followers of his cinema have come to expect something different, sometimes mindless and also the cerebral from the actor. Yet, one underlying feature about Aamir’s movies is that they have been money spinners. Aamir has managed to make his large audiences cry, think, laugh and entertain, quite successfully.

His range has included Peepli Live that spoofed 24/7 news networks; Ghajini, a violent love story; Taare Zameen Par about autistic kids; and Rang De Basanti about the angst of youth against a corrupt system.

At times Aamir has chosen to bank on the typical Bollywood masala stuff – aggressive hip thrusting dance moves, relentless chasing of the heroine around trees, melodrama and mindless humor that is locally referred as good time pass and paisa vasool (value for money). The movies include Andaz Apna Apna or Raja Hindustani.

Aamir has done it again.

Congress Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi
(Above): Aamir Khan (r) on the sets of “Satyamev Jayate.”

He has turned the established genre of TV programming on its head. The focus of his new TV show Satyamev Jayate (www.satyamevjayate.in) is social issues. The initiative should, perhaps, have been taken by the news channels. But, there is not much play in the mainstream media due to low response from advertisers and sponsors.

The first episode of Aamir’s TV foray last month was on female infanticide, a horrifying problem that has skewed India’s sex ratio turning many North Indian populations into only male settlements. The second was on child abuse, another sensitive issue. Then there was one on the rising healthcare costs.

Aamir could have chosen to do a quiz show or judge a dance competition, with much less effort. Given his star power, the profit making would have continued. The actor deserves kudos for putting the medium of TV, with its vast reach, to such good use.

Siddharth Srivastava is India correspondent for Siliconeer. He lives in New Delhi.


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