“The show is about meeting the common man of India, connecting with India and its people.”
– Aamir Khan said about ‘Satyamev Jayate’, and he keeps his word.
Satyamev Jayate is not a baby that had come out of nowhere. As Aamir has repeated in many interviews, around four years back he was approached by Uday Shankar, CEO of Star India, with an idea of doing a game show for Star Group. Aamir rejected it, as the Open magazine reports, saying “I don’t want to do a game show. I want to do something dynamically different”. Well, that is the Aamir’s style that we all are familiar with. He wanted to do something that was “different”. Aamir Khan probably understood much better than the people who wanted him to do a game show that the image he had built over the years wouldn’t allow him to do a mere game show. A game show required a star who didn’t really have a “serious-thinking” sort of an image that Aamir has. Aamir stands different from his fellow actors evidently in his career, and that had made us believe in the excellence of an Aamir product whenever it is on screen. A Salman Khan could pull off a Dus Ka Dum. But an Aamir couldn’t. A Shahrukh could do Zor Ka Jhatka in his informal sort of way. But even he couldn’t pull off a Kaun Banega Crorepati which required the gravitas of an Amitabh Bachchan. Media reports suggest that Aamir Khan and Star TV’s CEO Uday Shankar did not leave it at that. As Business Standard reports, “It started some sort of engagement between the two to leverage the power of television. After over one-and-a-half years Khan, who undertook extensive research with his creative team, hit upon the idea of Satyamev Jayate.” It took two years for Aamir Khan to research about the subjects to be attended to, and he had travelled criss-cross through the hearts and suburbs of India. Satyamev Jayate is not a commercial entertainer as just a Bollywood entertainer/thriller. Satyamev Jayate is a seriously thought Aamir product, with a message as per his habit, that makes it a ‘serious darling’.
People get so worried about his 3crore+ fees for an episode unlike about that of the other stars who host just entertainment shows. I am not aiming at the figures behind or after the show- the fees or the TRP alike. It is all about touching the lives, and giving a hand to the society publicly. More than that, it was a direct exposure of the wrongs that was around us till date, which we were totally deaf and blind to. Aamir rightly explained the show as having a good intention to pay back to the society for what it has given him in abundance. With the eight episodes, he was clearly seen picking out the relevant issues of the country, going to the core of it with the reasons, and exposing the full sphere of it with most sincerity and without compromises. As far as I know and believe, Aamir was never at a gunpoint, forcing him to do the show. Am I wrong with that belief of mine? 😉
It was disheartening seeing people writing epics against Aamir- against the 3 crore and the said “self-marketing”- finding their wanted links by referring to thousands of it on google, majority being in praise for the show. Their focus seem to be not finding the facts, but just finding atleast a link to satisfy their egoed concepts. How I wish they take a small portion of their egoed research time for looking into themselves and open the doors to the good outside! Quoting Aamir, “For any country to be happy, we need to join hands to work towards the common goal… We should all work together for the betterment of the country”, here is where such critics become the real obstacles for the minor initiatives that are taken with good intentions. There may be marketing, as it is also a television channel product, but on the other half why such people become blind to the hardwork, pain and reasearch that Aamir takes behind each episode, and after too? His initiatives don’t end up with just the episode, instead he carries it beyond. Along with the reach of the show being an eye- opener, Aamir takes further steps related to the issue, even when the episode starts and gets finished within a Sunday…it’s only about a Sunday that we are aware of, or what we believe is happening. There are days before and after it, where he is not idle enjoying his sleep over his three crores of remuneration for a fine Sunday.
After the first episode about ‘female foeticide’, Aamir Khan had met the chief minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot requesting him to establish the fast track court to decide cases which were pending in various courts. The chief minister had met the chief justice over the matter and as a result, Chief Justice of the Rajasthan high court Arun Mishra has given an in-principle nod to set up a fast track court for expediting trial in cases of female feticide. The authorities have cancelled the licenses of seven maternity and abortion centres in the district of Jalna, five centres’ license got suspended and show-cause notices issued for some other.
The second episode of the show was about child sex abuse that brought forward the shocking sexual offenses that adults have been committing on children. With that episode, Aamir Khan won the battle that he was doing, as the Lok Sabha passed the ‘Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Bill’ which was pending for long. News reports also site the arrest of an abuser with the MMS evidence made by the children, getting inspired by the show.
Weeks after Aamir Khan talked about the problems being faced by physically challenged children in getting admission in schools, Delhi government has decided to carry out a survey of such kids in the city to extend them educational facilities.
After a huge controversial episode about medical malpractices too, the show made the deserved impact. Spurred by his demand for making generic drugs available to patients to reduce their financial burden, the Union Health Ministry said that such medicines will be available at all Government hospitals from October-November. His show has played an important role also in the Maharashtra Government giving the green signal to a lot more generic medicine stores than the state now has. The Government announced that Generic medicines would be made available across all Government hospitals. In addition, the State Government has also planned to open medical stores across the state where generic medicines will be stocked in adequate amounts, and will be readily available for people. Karnataka Government also plans the same. After a number of incidents of “unwanted womb removal surgeries” came to light in the rural areas, the state government swung into action and formed a high level committee which inquired into the complaints and submitted its report. Subsequently, Chhattisgarh medical council suspended registration of nine private doctors.
Regarding the ninth episode in the series about alhohol, the impact was a bit high making evident the high rate of alcohol consumption in India, and the after- effects too. In the episode that first aired at 11am last Sunday, Satyamev Jayate focused on alcoholism and featured interviews with experts and recovering alcoholics, including AA member Laxman. As Aamir Khan announced the number on air, AA offices across the country braced themselves. Gajanan, Rotated trustee of AA India who was at the AA office in Mumbai, said, “The number was first flashed on the show at 11.37am and at 11.40am we received the first call. Within 20 minutes, the AA website had crashed. At 12.30am, all telephone lines were jammed and missed calls started piling up. Within the next hour, we received 8,600 missed calls.” By 4pm, AA centers across India had received 13,000 calls which jumped up to 28,000 by 7 in the evening after the show aired. At the time of going to print, more than 31,000 calls were recorded.
In person too, Aamir Khan stood by his word as he had promised Shanno, a female cab driver and a victim of domestic violence, that whenever he visited Delhi, he would hire her vehicle, and that is exactly what he did. On June 21, Aamir arrived in Delhi for two days to present his research on medical malpractices to the Parliament, when he hired a cab from Sakha, the agency that Shanno works with. Incidentally, the agency, Sakha, also helps victims of domestic violence.
So that was the impact that was reported in public, in a nutshell. But Aamir aims more on the change within ourselves- a kind of questioning ourselves, that leads to self- realisation.
Speaking to the CNN IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose on ‘Face the Nation’, Aamir Khan said that he alone could not change the society and that a change in people’s attitude was required to make India a better country. Excerpts from the talk:
Sagarika Ghose: Each of your episodes on Satyamev Jayate has stirred a debate, awakened people and had a big impact. Did you think it would be like this when you started?
Aamir Khan: Well, Sagarika I have to say this that it is like a dream response that we are having to the show and this is the kind of response we wanted to have. This is the kind of impact we wanted to have. This is the kind of debate we had hoped to generate and discussions among people across, you know, the country – whether it is small towns, villages or cities, across economic groups. And that is exactly what is happening and me and my entire team is really happy about that.
Sagarika Ghose: Aamir you have just come back from Delhi where you were invited to talk to a Parliamentary Committee on generic drugs. Is this what you wanted to be, an activist who rouses the conscience of the political class?
Aamir Khan: Actually I don’t think we are trying to rouse the conscience of the political class in particular. That’s not what we are attempting to do. What we are attempting to do really is question ourselves, and in questioning myself, I am hoping that people will question themselves, whether you are in politics or a common person. In fact, in a large number of issues… what is required is a change in attitude. For example, all of us are surrounded by this patriarchal kind of thinking. Now politicians can hardly change that. The feeling that people have… of not wanting a girl child… that is a feeling. So we are looking to provoke people to look inward, rather than outward.
Sagarika Ghose: There are those who say that the show is a scripted attempt to build brand Aamir Khan. How would you respond to those who say that through the show, you are simply building your own brand?
Aamir Khan: You know I don’t react to things like this. What do I react? First of all I don’t think that everyone thinks that way. May be one or two think that way. But if they do, they are free to think that way. Each one is free to make their assumptions. As far as I am concerned, I am very clear why I am doing it. I am doing it because I have always felt that way. It is a thing that I have been thinking about for a number of years. I have always wanted to do it. Whatever I have gained from society, whatever I have got from society, I would like to give it back. And I would like to make use of the goodwill that I may have earned over the years. And I want to combine it with a strong platform of TV. I am really trying to reach the length and breadth of the country. So I don’t want to react to those who say the show is about me.
Sagarika Ghose: But do you believe that your persona, the persona of Aamir Khan is fundamental to the success of the show?
Aamir Khan: I am an integral part of it certainly. For me what is important is that where is my focus. I am actually a medium through whom this information is passed and hopefully getting to people. And there are people on my show who are giving this information. Often, these stories are done by journalists like yourself. So in our research we use the material that you all have already found for us. And I become the medium through whom the information is passing. My focus is not on me, but on the issue at hand and the people, from whom I am learning and understanding different things. And as I receive this things and get moved by them, similarly I am hoping that people who receive them through me, get affected by it just like I am getting affected. So the change or the journey begins with me before it begins with anyone else.
Sagarika Ghose: Aamir there are reports that the TRPs of Satyamev Jayate are not that good. Does that bother you?
Aamir Khan: I am very clear that our viewership is the highest ever. I don’t know what the advertisers do but I will tell you one thing. The reason I am not bothered about TRPs is because TRP number is given by just 7,000 boxes. And how is 7000 boxes going to tell me what India is watching. TRP is very different from viewership. And I am bothered about viewership, I am concerned about it, not the TRPs.
Sagarika Ghose: There has been a lot of criticism of your show on medical malpractices especially from doctors. They say you have maligned their profession. How do you react to them? Do you feel you have done the doctors an injustice?
Aamir Khan: I can tell you very categorically that I have done no injustice to anyone. I absolutely, completely stand by my show. Any doctor who does not indulge in any malpractice will be thrilled by our show. A number of doctors wrote in to me saying they have been really unhappy with the kind of things that is going on in their profession. So it is not Aamir Khan or Satyamev Jayate that has brought disrepute to the profession. It is those doctors who indulge in malpractices who have done that. There are those who are working fantastic. In fact I have said that on my show that not all doctors are indulging in malpractices. There are those who are doing justice to their profession.
Sagarika Ghose: My next question – in a lot of your episodes, you cry and emote. Do you feel that this kind of crying and emotional reactions adds value to the show?
Aamir Khan: See each time I am sitting just two feet away from a person who is telling me very personal things about their lives that affected them, I can’t help but be affected. In fact, the show is actually an edited version of how I react. There have been times when I have been so moved that I could not continue further. So the show would be stopped and resume after 10-15 minutes so that I can calm myself down and be in a position where I can carry forward the show. So we actually cut all that out. Once I have collected myself, we resume. So that’s the kind of person I am. There are people who are able to control their emotions. But not me.
Sagarika Ghose: Is it spontaneous?
Aamir Khan: Yes it is entirely spontaneous reaction.
Sagarika Ghose: So you don’t rehearse at all?
Aamir Khan: No, no we don’t rehearse. We don’t rehearse the show. What we do is in the two years of research, I have been through all the various tapes of hundreds of people who have spoken various things about their lives and when they are speaking to my team, they have no idea that this is being done for a TV show which is being hosted by Aamir Khan. They have no idea, none whatsoever. So they are speaking their heart out and I am listening to it. So on the show, when I am sitting with a guest, I have some idea about that person as I have seen his or her video. But this is the first time I am talking to that person face-to-face. And a connection forms, a bond forms. Sometimes they come up with new details. Sometimes I may not remember details from their tapes. So for me, it is again like a first time experience. So I am reacting spontaneously at that point of time.
Sagarika Ghose: Aamir, once the thirteen episodes of Satyamev Jayate are over, how will you sustain the momentum? How will the real change you want to see happen once you go back to being a superstar in Bollywood yet female foeticide out there in India continues?
Aamir Khan: One person cannot bring about change. I cannot bring about change. I cannot be presumptuous enough to say that I alone can bring about change. The change has to be brought about by each and every Indian. Let us take for example female foeticide, which was our very first show. Having watched the show and agreed with its content, what do I as an Indian need to do? I have to say that from here onwards, I will not indulge in this. Second, I have to stop this in and around my area, my neighbourhood. The change has to be brought within oneself. The fight is inward… that I am not going to do it. I am not expecting people to come out of their houses and fight.
Sagarika Ghose: You talk about change in oneself. What do you intend to contribute in terms of philanthropy perhaps, setting up a foundation, contributing money to the causes you believe in…?
Aamir Khan: In terms of philanthropy, I am already doing various things. I just don’t like to talk about it on public platforms. I am also hoping that the kind of response we have had so far, it sustains for the 13 episodes. If people like the show much as to want a second season of the show, I would be happy to do that. So for me, this journey does not end here. I am hoping it will go on.
Sagarika Ghose: So politician bashing is something Aamir Khan does not believe in. Your show is about the issues many journalists have taken up for years. For example, female foeticide. But do you feel that journalists are not doing the kind of work that they should be doing?
Aamir Khan: Well again like other fields, a lot of journalists are giving it their best, and then again there are those who are not. So would we like to see better journalism in India? I would say yes. See Sagarika, we have just one life. That’s the point I am trying to make. We have just one life, to make a difference. We can decide how meaningful we want to make our lives. We are not going to get a second chance. And that applies to each one of us, whether you are a journalist, or an actor or a businessman or a school teacher…Whatever you are. This is your one life you have got and you can make it really meaningful.
Sagarika Ghose: So how do we describe Aamir Khan today. Social activist or social reformer, an actor… Today how would you like to be described?
Aamir Khan: I guess my core competence lies in entertaining people. And by entertaining I mean to enrich your life in many ways, not just dancing or making people laugh. You know I met this American writer who said the job of an entertainer is not just to entertain but to enrich other people’s lives, bring grace to society. So I really liked that definition. And if that’s the definition of an entertainer, I would like to say that I am an entertainer who is doing all of these things.
Aamir’s urge for being “dynamically different” is justified with what he “sells” (if the critics prefer that word more) on Sundays. He gets enough slaps from the serious critics on internet, which never disturbs his good intention behind. The series of this season will end with 13 episodes. He plans to return to his film career for a while and then to come back with the next season of the show. As Vivek Kaul, a writer, rightly said, “Aamir Khan went out looking for an idea like Satyamev Jayate and found it. But it can also be safely said that an idea like Satyamev Jayate needed a presenter like Aamir Khan. They are made for each other.”
Coming to the most spirited element of the show- the title, Aamir was adamant about naming the show as ‘Satyamev Jayate’ as he felt it completely gelled with the theme, which indicated that the show is of, for and belongs to people of India. However, he later learnt the fact that the title ‘Satyamev Jayate’ belonged to the country and cannot be registered for the copyrights as it cannot be exploited on a creative level for promotional activities. The team however went ahead and borrowed the title that helped people later say aloud “Satyamev Jayate…” placing their palms on their hearts.
A star called Aamir Khan may not change India on one fine day. But in India’s billion population, when there is a good percentage of celebrities around, it was only an Aamir who picked up the task on his own. As much dedicated as he is to his movies, he gave himself to this show too, sacrificing a good amount of his other beneficial priorities. Bravo Aamir! I, on behalf of the common people of India, salute you! For each of the slaps you receive just out of prejudices, we will give you a hundred honours to keep you going.
Here I conclude with a quote of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe- “Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten but they may start a winning game.”
Satyamev Jayate! Truth only prevails!
Thanks to Sumesh S Menon for the valuable contributions and encouragement.
Materials collected primarily from the official site of Satyamev Jayate(http://www.satyamevjayate.in)
Secondary sources- ibnlive.in.com, Times of India, Wikipedia, http://www.firstpost.com, Facebook and Twitter.