Aamir Khan raises a valid question during the course of his television debut, one that is hauntingly reminiscent of John F Kennedy’s inaugural address, where an emotional young American president once echoed a simple thought: “Ask not what the country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
“Satyamev Jayate’s” very premise tackles that thought-provoking subtext and transforms it into an emotional struggle that has an entire country in its grip, fighting against the shackles that bind the common man.
For a superstar like Khan, who has made his millions by shaking a leg in the largely imaginary and vibrant world of Bollywood, the shades of grey in his TV show bear a striking contrast to the gaudy kitsch that often brightens up the celluloid screens in Indian cinemas.
There is no prize money to be won here folks; neither will a gushing celebrity reveal a personal anecdote while shamelessly plugging his or latest multi-million dirham film project during a marketing blitzkrieg.
Khan takes the kid gloves off and presents to you ‘India Tarnished’, a far cry from the ‘India Shining’ roadmap that was once cemented to encourage the country towards a brighter and more prosperous tomorrow.
'Satyamev Jayate' official theme song
The actor at one point asks on his debut show, how can we set our sights on India Shining when we have the blood of 30 million female foeticides on our hands?
The number alone raises goosebumps and the task ahead seems gargantuan. Yet all is not lost.
“Satyamev Jayate”, which literally translates to Truth Alone Prevails, is Khan’s swansong that one can only pray will start a revolution that will shake up society and awaken it from its selective slumber.
‘Tears are not enough’
For many UAE residents who tuned into Khan’s show on Star Plus last evening, the wakeup call is a welcome one, and one that is long overdue for some.
“I watched Aamir bring to light the tragic incidences of female foeticide cases in India, all the time thinking, I could have been her, the poor mother who was duped and drugged while her young babies were aborted six times,” said Dubai-based accountant, Shanta Aggrawal (name changed). “Anyone of us could have lived that horror.”
She added: “I cried and I wasn’t ashamed of my tears. As a mother of two girls and a victim of many snide remarks over the years for not producing a male heir to carry forth the family lineage, I too have suffered the humiliation and the pain.”
Another Dubai-resident, Javed, talked about the sting operations conducted by two Indian journalists who exposed the cartel of doctors who run the business of aborting female foetuses, saying: “The show was an eye opener and it touched hearts. But tears are not enough. Now action needs to be taken. The doctors following this practice should be punished and any other person involved should be brought to justice.”
A BlackBerry message that has been doing the rounds post the show’s airing simply states: “I am sure most of you have watched Aamir Khan’s first television show. But my question to you is, did you send an SMS or log on to the website for the two journalists’ cases to be heard through a fast track court?
“Yeah, you just switched off your TV sets after listening to the beautiful song. We can all make a difference for a better India.”
Is a show really enough?
While ratings for the show have gone through the roof, many critics, bloggers and social media junkies have all asked the same question: is it enough?
“The issue of female foeticide is not new; it’s tragic, heartbreaking too but it’s one that educated members of society are aware of and even practice. How does one show and one actor snowball a change,” asks Ajman resident Ali Siddique.
Meanwhile, Sushil Kumar from Sharjah asks: “Does Khan even come across as being sincere when he is charging astronomical fees for being on the show and reaping in a percentage of the advertising revenue?
“Let’s focus on the bigger picture here, one which isn’t an emotional struggle shared by ordinary people, but rather the heaps of profit some extraordinary smart people are making on pretext of a few tears and a sob story.”
Khan, who is better known as being one of India’s highest paid actors, has charged an undisclosed sum for the “Satyamev Jayate”, which has been helmed by his own production house and aired on the Rupert Murdoch-owned Star Plus.
According to media reports, each episode is costing more than Dh2.7 million to produce.
Earlier research indicates that on average, a 30-minute episode of a prime-time Hindi soap costs Dh61823 to produce, while a reality show can range between Dh240423 and Dh1.3 m.
So, to actually churn out a profit, advertisers will have to fork over Dh68692 m for a 10-second spot.
Said Sakshi Bachani, a Dubai-based professor: “Why are the numbers here creating such a flurry? Amitabh Bachchan’s “Kaun Banega Crorepati?” (“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”) probably had a similar ad revenue-production value breakdown, but it offered cash in return to contestants so that made the tally okay?
“Fair enough that “Satyamev Jayate” is a profit making venture, but isn’t everything on TV? The bigger picture here is not the money trail, but rather the fact that a sensible actor, who is well liked and respected by the masses in India is attempting a revolution.
“Today, even if a single household or young mother is inspired by his words and stands up to female infanticide then isn’t that one life saved more valuable than ad money. This is a wake-up call. It’s our choice if we choose to do so or slink back into our slumber.”