Aamir Khan’s 13-episode Satyameva Jayate which fuses together the mass appeal of celebrity with the mass reach of the TV medium to raise awareness on social issues, is already the toast of drawing rooms. But it has also sparked questions: do hi-glitz shows such as this have a lasting impact? Or could this, like other shows, end up being just another platform to peddle products? Aamir spoke to Namrata Joshi in Jaipur. Excerpts:
Did you expect the programme would strike such a chord?
I was hoping it would be this huge. It has been a dream response.
Is the response due to the issue, the cause or the sheer power of your stardom?
No, it’s not about my stardom. Perhaps in a broad way people would come to the show thinking let’s see what he is saying. But it’s a combination of the research work of my team and the strength of TV which can, potentially, take change to every home. I am the via media in getting people to watch the show, to see the extraordinary stories of ordinary people.
Female foeticide (the topic of the first episode) has been much covered in the media. But Aamir Khan has got everyone talking about it now. Is the star turning into a citizen journalist here?
I am happy to be called a journalist. The first phase of our job, when we were dealing with research work I was a journalist. What I am doing here is empowering the viewers with 360 degree information on an issue. The information is emotional, social, legal, economic about the possible solutions and the way forward. Of course it is limited to my understanding of it. How my team and I, to the best of our ability, have understood various issues after two years of research.
But I get creative when it comes to taking that material to people. I am interested in reaching people on a human level. It's about what is the most effective way to touch your hearts. I am using entertainment to reach out. Which is not to say I am using fun and games. It's more about underlining things with emotions. Like I did with the issue of childcare and education in a film like Taare Zameen Par. The information people get from a newspaper and magazine article doesn't change their heart. Very few people cry on reading newspapers. I try to affect them emotionally.
The show has been criticised by some for being too manipulative...
I am using honest emotions to say something good. Look at the manner in which I open the show. I talk about mothers and motherhood. Then go on to pick one mother to show how we treat our mothers. I don't say the word foeticide immediately at the start of the show but after two cases have been discussed. I gradually take you to the issue. I am a communicator. I scare you with its eventualities when I talk of women being bought and sold. I am not limited by the format of an article. I am on a general entertainment channel. I am a person who makes feature films. These are my skillsets and I am using them to deal with the issues. Am good at engaging with people emotionally. That's what I have a passion for and am good at and I am using that ability.
Do such shows bring about change? Or do people engage and move on?
Often the stance on any problem is why doesn't the police, the government do something about it. However, here I am asking people to do what I am doing myself which is to look within and ask what am I doing about it. It's not about physical action but an internal, personal journey. The biggest change we can bring about is in ourselves. I am not asking people to come on the roads and take out a dharna. Three crore female foetuses have been aborted in the last 30-40 years. Female foeticide is a crime planned in our bedrooms and we can't have cops in the bedrooms to monitor us. But if we get even a hint that something like this is being planned in our family or by our friends we can create a ruckus. I won't tell you to decide. I won't judge you if you don't do anything. The choice has to be yours, I can't force it on you. I hope people do find courage and desire to change. So if a doctor who has been involved in foeticides decides after seeing the show that he or she won't do it anymore bas mera kaam ho gaya. Even if one girl child is saved then the show is a success.
I will be on TV. I will also be on Vividh Bharati, AIR, Radio Mirchi, Star News. I will write a column in HT. With every issue I want to go wide on many platforms. It's a deep and concentrated approach to reach out in as many different ways as possible. I hope it will make people understand an issue for a life. I hope it will have them converted for life.
People are critical of the way you get involved with a cause and then get out. For instance, the Narmada protest, which you joined briefly.
I find it a very faulty critique. It's actually your desire of seeing me as a full time, 24X7 social activist. I am not that. It's not what I claim to be. I can agree, support, endorse but I can't leave my job which is films. Talaash is delayed right now. But I will go back to it. Am doing Dhoom 3 and P.K. next. But I will continue to support causes while doing my work. I can't measure up to the 500% expectations that you have of me. I am consistent with what I am committing myself to. It's like I have just said that I will come and have tea with you but it's you who are assuming that I am going to come and live with you for life. If my involvement with an issue seems less to you then why don't you do the good work?
You can question me two months hence that you had done a show on this issue and why don't you remain with it your entire life. According to me it's for the state and administration to take forward the job. You, as an individual, also need to take a call, be responsible and decisive.
There are whispers about your charging Rs 3 crore per episode for a show on serious social issues...
I never discuss my fee. But since you asked I am getting Rs 3.5 crore per episode. Firstly what I get is none of anyone's business. Main apni mehnat ki kama aur khaa raha hoon. [I am earning and enjoying the benefits of my hard-work]. I am not doing anything wrong. Main izzat se, achchaa kaam karke roti kama raha hoon aur mujhe fakr hai is baat ka [I am honourably, by doing good work, earning my bread, and I am proud of it]. Secondly to clear the misconception this amount includes the cost of the episode also. The bulk of the money goes into the cost and some of the episodes may have overshot the amount. Thirdly, I have endorsements deals of about Rs 100-125 crore per year. I have stopped them for a year while the show is on. There's no logic in the decision, it's purely emotional. But tell me who has ever said no to Rs 100 crore for a cause?
So what issues do we see next?
We started off with 20 topics of which we fleshed out 16 and eventually locked in 13. These are topics which affect every Indian. But the topic of next week will not be revealed in advance. Even when I start the episode you wouldn't know immediately. It's not just the topic that's important but also on how I present it and get you engaged and involved with it.
Will you discuss contentious political topics like Gujarat, Kashmir, North East?
The issues will be social more than political. At this point I want to concentrate only on social issues. But it's impossible to cut away political aspects from any issue. Also if we bring about change in the people and their perceptions our political processes will also change over time.
You'll see all kinds of India: the India I have seen. There are heart-breaking and traumatic stories, inspiring stories of great courage and high values and ideals.
Do we see you taking to politics like stars abroad?
I have always been categorical about my no to politics. Political alignments, party affiliations I am not interested in.
A shorter, edited version of this appeared in print
After reading his interview, one felt like getting up from one’s chair and heartily cheering his astounding idealism and determination to do something for his fellow human beings. In heeding his inner voice and expressing it through his craft, Aamir Khan has raised Indian television to a point where one can see its great possibilities as an agent of change.
Shyam Sethi, New Delhi
With a total disconnect with the aam aadmi’s life and concerns, the frivolous and pointless shows one constantly gets to see on our TV channels have had people seething with despair. Aamir’s Satyamev Jayate awakens our sleeping souls.
Jyoti Rani, on e-mail
Aamir’s show has brought the spotlight on the dowry system in India. Contrary to most beliefs, even the parents of the bride are to be blamed for perpetuating this evil. In wanting the best for their daughter, they spurn proposals within their reach, hankering after the cream of grooms. And then they lament over the unreasonable demands made by the groom and his parents.
Amjad Maruf, Mumbai
“Truly path-breaking” are the words that best describe Aamir’s project.
Divya Kumari, on e-mail
What’s with all those mushy, tear-filled faces among the audience? Come on, people watch live war on TV these days with an absolute air of indifference, and you really want me to believe that they are so moved by a two-minute account of an abortion?
“The jury is out,” you declare. Well, it is already out, and it has spoken loud and clear. That it is pleased that at long last, someone has woken up to the reality that if we leave everything to our politicians or the government, nothing will get done, and it is up to us to take charge, and put our shoulders to the wheel, as it were.
Manish Anand, Delhi
It’s fashionable in our country that if anybody does anything for society, the critics will draw out their knives. Let them do their jobs, something good will come of it.
Dinesh Kumar, Chandigarh
Would it have been better if SJ had been made by someone else, not Aamir? Would all the cynicism have vanished? One must learn to lead, or follow; otherwise get out of the way.
Ashutosh Kaul, Toronto
Aamir seems different from other film stars. He appears more sincere, and eager to use his status to make a difference.
G. Niranjan Rao, Hyderabad
Television shows and causes come and go, but how much do things really change? Whatever happened to the Anna movement? Fizzled out. Will Aamir’s show go beyond a Sunday engagement?
Ron S., Brussels
Aamir Khan and his team has gathered a lot of positive energy and are spreading it among the general public. The mindset of some of the erring people, on this issue or that, may actually change. However your reporter and her counterparts in the media are spreading negative energy by writing too much about the endeavour. Let Aamir do what he wants to and allow people to make a decision on their own.
Parthiban T.R., Kolar
" ME AND MY SISTER " --- The Assamese feature film which will release on 29th june 2012. The film deals with the impact of the act of female foeticide on the child. An educated couple are shown to be troubled , harassment of women and panic at the thought that their coming child would be a girl. They even think of killing the foetus. The internal conflicts and anxiety of the pregnant women throws light on the issue. But as , it happens, the woman bears the foetus of twins, a MALE and a FEMALE. The twins talk inside the womb about the world outside where women are not secure. The story artistically depicts today's burning social issue like female foeticide, stressing specially on the rights of woman in the perspective of the changes taking place in the 21st century. The film , shot in Cinemascope 35mm , Story , Concept & Produce by Nipon Dholua under banner NBDK PRODUCTION.
The film, ‘Me and My Sister’, deals with the impact of the act of female foeticide on a child.?Geetartha, Chandana and their only son Akash are living their life with all happiness. Chandana is carrying and is now at primary stage. Geetartha makes sincere efforts to boost up her spirit and confidence while Dr Jharna, a gynecologist and their family friend, provides her with all medical care to ensure smooth and safe birth of the unborn.
A responsible government officer, Geetartha, one day finds a young lady refusing to accept the award ‘Woman of the Year’, a state award of high esteem. Back home, Geetartha shares his feelings with Chandana, who, on hearing the name of the lady and then seeing her photograph, comes to know that Dolly, the lady, was her best friend during college days.
Chandana is deeply concerned about the trauma and agony in the life of Dolly and her little daughter Shikha. Along with her husband Geetartha and son Akash, Chandana provides mental support to Dolly and thus she becomes involved with Dolly’s life. Sometimes, one or two disturbing incidents in Dolly’s day-to-day life fetch Chandana mental anxiety, tension which is harmful for her at this very stage of pregnancy.
In the mean time, Dr Jharna after a routine check up of Chandana finds that she is carrying a twins. This makes both Chandana and Geetartha ecstatic. But Akash is more excited about his sister to be born.?
Days pass on and the event of the award presentation function is nearing. Dolly is adamant in her decision not to receive the award because she does not believe that this award could neither change whatever already has happened to her life nor will bring any change to her future life. She simply and silently leaves the township along with her little daughter Shikha.
One day, Chandana suddenly falls ill and starts feeling labour pain. At the hospital Dr Jharna tells Geetartha that she is not in a condition now to deliver birth to two babies, and, therefore, one baby in her womb has to be spoiled. Geetartha has no other means for the sake of life of Chandana.?When Chandana is taken to operation theatre, Dolly and Shikha drop in at the hospital. Geetartha, stunned on seeing Dolly after her sudden disappearance, is elated to know that Dolly has come back only to receive the award which will be presented in a glamorous function that evening by the Chief Minister. Dolly tells Geetartha that she will receive the award not for her but for and on behalf of Chandana, the lady who has undergone so much of pain and agony while standing beside unfortunate Dolly and Shikha. ?The operation is successful and it fetches Chandana another son. Geetartha is happy to see his wife Chandana alive perfectly and also to find one more son coming to his family. Back home in Geetartha-Chandana’s place, Akash still waits for his sister who, in fact, was already committed from their life. Forever……………………………….
Prastuti Parashar, Barsharani Bishaya, Samar Hazarika, Gyanendra Pallab,
" Child Artists "
Dishan Dholua , ,Birina
Mob : 09435049526
Activist or actor - doesn't matter. Whatever he is doing, is good.
Let me start by laying my claim over Aamir Khan for whatever he is today.
He (and the flood of many others) is in fact the hero of our time. We were the one who were entering our adolescence.
So whatever it worth, my 5 rupees and 25 paise first class ticket of "Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak" too is the reason behind this 100-200 Crores.
( It is puzzling and disturbing (disgusting too) to see some of these 40+ folks are playing students).
No certificate is required, Aamir is a great actor and a thinking and concerned citizen.
All kudos to him.
This TV program is a wonderful thing and he deserves a gratitude and a thanks.
These topics are so vast that whatever they will do, there will always be something left to be desired, but we cannot and should not question their efforts.
I also support his right to give as much time he wishes to give to a cause. He isn't an activist, yet he is doing whatever he can. Mainly the keyboard-warriors like me are ill-placed to criticise his attempt.
But there is a downside to it.
I am little offended by his argument on 3.5 crore per episode.
He seems pitting himself against Amitabh Bachchans and Sahrukh Khans in his claim, "But tell me who has ever said no to Rs 100 crore for a cause?"
No sir, once you are into this world of causes, you are bidding against Medha Patkars, Aruna Roys, Arvind Kejrivals, etc.
I apologise for listing the known names only, but there are thousands others, IITans, IASs, doctors, etc; who left their own 100-200 crores (minus 3-4 zeros) without any claim over 3.5 crore (minus 3-4 zeros again).
It is offensive sir, it is demeaning.
I also fear if this TV show will boomerang.
Causes usually demand a sustained campaign for really long time. Once a cause is converted into quick two-drop-tear entertainment show. I am not sure how seriously regular activist of that cause will be taken after that.
But that is obviously just a thought.
I enjoy the program very much. It is very informative, very educational, very moving.
But do I think it is going to change any things on ground?
@ Charan Dewry, Guwahatty,India (# 22) : To your list of "things to reduce female foeticide", we need to add " banning ostentatious, expensive weddings".
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