The women who unburdened themselves of their anguish on television won't win a gift hamper sponsored by a corporate; but if it could make us pause and think, Aamir Khan's effort will not have been wasted, feels Saisuresh Sivaswamy.
I have a surprising admission to make: I don't watch television. And I blame television for it.
Like many others, I too come from the black and white television set era, a time when Doordarshan ruled supreme. For a long time there was only one channel to watch. And, while it is riled today for its bureaucratic snarls and non-creative decisions, it left its mark on a whole generation. Mine.
There was Buniyaad, a serial like none I have watched on television since. There was also Humlog, fare the entire nation stayed glued to. And other programmes and serials that, looking back, show up the hollowness of today's bouquet of riches.
Those serials did not have cardboard characters dressed in designer clothes in the comfort of their homes mouthing cliches, or an editor gone berserk on whatever that machine is called. Those serials were populated by simple people, and dealt with simple stuff. You had people like Gulzar, Basu Chatterjee etc making programmes for television.
Stuff that all of India enjoyed watching.
I think the decline began with the boom in satellite television. Suddenly freed from the government's clutches on programming, producers sought to put as much distance between themselves and Doordarshan's way of functioning.
A classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Producers must have found plenty of stuff wrong with Mandi House -- Doordarshan's head office in New Delhi (explanation for the younger readers) -- but there was also some good programming that came out of there. It is always tough to match societal concerns with commerce, and while it may rank on the government's agenda, marrying the two didn't matter to the private producers. It did when DD was the only act in town, but not anymore.
So we saw the classic decline in television fare, leading to mind-numbing shows that apparently enjoyed humongous TRPs. Television-watching crowds were happy, the advertisers were happy, and so were the channels.
Thus, in the new winds of liberalisation that was blowing across India, the old was unceremoniously junked. It was happening across media, not just on television.
As the television stations fought a pitched battle for glam and glitz, Bollywood stars with their mammoth followings took to the small screen. Interestingly, this had only a tentative start, with a former superstar who had fallen on bad days and who tried out television to see if it could revive his fortunes.
It did, and how!, and today, while he doesn't have time for the medium anymore, other stars too quickly made it part of their stomping ground, shaking their hips, mouthing their dialogues, shaking a leg and bewitching the audiences in the studio and outside, and also boosting their bank balance many times over.
Sure, there was some tipping of the hat to the India that existed beyond TRPs and saas-bahu serials, the real India, an India the new wealthy citizen seems to have forgotten, so taken in is he by this intoxicating buzzword called 'entertainment'.
What this mass dumbing-down indicated about us as a nation, as a people, didn't seem to matter to anyone.
And it needed someone with a different thinking to make India sit up and think about itself. Given his oeuvre, given his sensitivities, it had to be Aamir Khan who could set television programming right, but it didn't have to necessarily be him.
It could have been any of the Khans -- all as intelligent as this one, if not more; all as concerned about India as this Khan is, no doubt -- or any of the big stars we all love, but the truth is, no one had the cojones (pardon my Spanish) to do it.
At times, it is so easy to fall prey to, be seduced by the 'arre, chal raha hai toh chalne do' line of argument. No one wants to upset the apple cart, no one wants to derail the gravy train. And so all of India was caught up in this mad rush to be entertained, while Bharat looked on from the sidelines, hoping to get to this happy place where everyone seemed dressed in designer clothes and mouthed fancy dialogues, where there was no hunger, no deprivation, no wife-beating, no female foeticide
Yes, female foeticide. Which only happens in the other India, as people said on Aamir's show, before being shown that it happens right in our backyards while we are being seduced by television.
If I heard Aamir Khan's opening dialogues on Satyameva Jayate right (I live in a very noisy part of Mumbai), he is deeply concerned about the real issues out there that all of India seems to have put a lid on; perhaps it stings him when he compares his own prosperity against it. For it is this India outside that is generating the mindboggling revenues for his and others' films.
His concern should be ours, too: do we have the right to be an island of happiness, of prosperity, and blank out the grim reality while being surrounded by an ocean of unhappiness, poverty, illiteracy and whatnot? That should be our concern, but it is not. We think we have done our bit by paying our taxes, donating a little to charity or the temple, being a 'good citizen' and, hey, at the end of a hectic workday am I not entitled to some entertainment? What's wrong with it?
Nothing wrong with that at all, pal. But there's a little more to being socially conscious than being fed the wrong information and being smug in our own little world, thinking the bad stuff happens to and is done by the 'others', you know, the illiterate villagers out there, the poor people. Not us the georgette and chiffon folk, the FabIndia customers.
As Aamir Khan showed on TV, and searingly at that, the reality is not what we have been led to believe, it seems. Picking on a topic that impacts all of India, and one that causes deep anguish to the Bharat Mata that we so vocally and aggressively show our love for on Twitter, Facebook, our bumper stickers and wherenot, Aamir Khan brought the truth into our living rooms: we are complicit in the murder of female foetuses rampant in our society, not they, by our silence.
It's a mirror he has held to our face, and it is an ugly citizen that is staring back, not a Shah Rukh Khan or Hrithik lookalike that we have been led to believe.
Our SMS at the end of watching his show won't make us a lucky winner of Rs 100,000, or a fancy car, or holiday package for two, but it sure can save future lives. The women who unburdened themselves of their anguish on television won't win a gift hamper sponsored by a corporate; but if it could make us pause and think, Aamir Khan's effort will not have been wasted. As for me, yes, I know it's going to be next to impossible to budge from before the TV set at home on Sunday mornings. Like it used to be once.
And yes, Rajni would have been proud too (and if you thought I was referring to the southern superstar, you do need to see Aamir Khan's Satyameva Jayate, on Star Plus and Doordarshan, Sundays at 11 am).