Fine packaging is not desirable when the stuff inside is about the real India, says Sheela Bhatt of Aamir Khan's television debut.
Did you see the first episode of Aamir Khan's Satyameva Jayate on Sunday?
Did you miss anything when the superstar with a conscience launched himself on the small screen with a multi-million publicity blitz?
Was Aamir's debut performance fiery enough to rekindle the hearts of television viewers thoroughly degenerated by the Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi genre of programming?
The answer is in between 'yes' and 'no.'
Aamir Khan's first television outing was on the problem of female foeticide in India. Those who hardly read newspapers or who are ill-informed about such issues must have cried at the mother narrating her story to Aamir Khan in the television studio.
Amisha Yagnik of Ahmedabad aborted six times in less than 10 years because her husband found out that she was carrying a girl child. She and other women on the show touched one's heart when they narrated how they had to suffer only because they had a girl child.
It is very interesting to see that in a country where the mainstream media is limiting itself more and more in making the choice of subjects and is drifting away from national priorities, Aamir Khan is arriving with a mega show to occupy this vacuum.
Aamir has to be applauded for picking a serious issue that has afflicted and shamed India. One is not trying to denounce him or his efforts. But, at the same time, his programme's format is too predictable and flat. It hardly carried any nuances of the complex subject, it did not even try to show the husband and mother-in-law's devilish minds, it threw no light on the police's inaction for the blatantly illegal act by husbands, it didn't try to explore deeply society's deafening silence on the issue.
The issue of gender bias has a historic context and it shows the ugly side of the human psyche and Indian family traditions. Satyameva Jayate was neither hard-hitting enough nor did it show any new facets of the issue to usher in change, leave alone revolution.
It played safe by making us cry. Only cry.
Sure, Aamir denounced forcefully the monstrous idea of killing the girl foetus but, in some moments, in some frames, he was making an attempt to appear engaged which did not look natural.
One is sure that even superstars have butterflies in their stomach before appearing on television where they face a tough test before the national audience.
One will have to wait for more episodes to see if Aamir Khan will grow beyond his marketed image and create a new Aamir Khan for the real India, for the real issues.
The format of Satyameva Jayate has to be more profound. The present format looks like an assembly-line production. Many such programmes have come and gone. One does not need the great actor Aamir Khan to make people cry. One only needs to bring the 'Indian story' before the television camera and shoot.
The big problem of Satyameva Jayate's format is that it is on predictable lines. Smriti Irani has done such shows; and even yesteryear's Priya Tendulkar -- who passed away in 2002 -- could have done the job.
Also, Aamir should not touch the emotional nerve of his fans too soon and too frequently. 'Drama' or 'melodrama' defuses the focus on stark reality. Tears are an obstacle to touch the core of the issue. To make an impact Aamir should not make us cry, he should make us angry, outraged.
It is up to Aamir to decide if he is out to change India or is he simply trying to just 'inform and educate' his audience. If he wants to educate us on the serious issues afflicting India, which is no less noble an intention, then the current format is fine, but if he wants to give his stamp of leadership, wants to re-establish values, and if he wants to share his idealism with a larger section of Indian society, then Satyameva Jayate is likely to fall short.
No profound change in any Indian issue is likely to come about just because Reliance Foundation contributes some money or Airtel gets smses in millions at the end of a television show.
We are not kidding when we talk about issues like human rights violations, child abuse, corruption, female foeticide, road accidents, child labour, Indians' apathy towards beggars, the digital divide, hunger, poverty, unemployment, disregard for ecology, malnutrition, domestic violence, selling of poor girls in urban India etc.
Surely, Aamir Khan will take up these kinds of issues in coming episodes. But change will not come even after 1,000 episodes of Satymeva Jayate if Aamir Khan sits in the studio and tells us the phone numbers where to send our SMS.
In all the burning issues of India that are likely to be touched upon by Aamir Khan, let us not forget, the story is about us. It is about the viewers, for the viewers and by the viewers.
The 'people' who are portrayed in Aamir Khan's shows as the main actors, actresses, villains, vamps or characters will not be very different from the Indian masses who constitute the 'TV viewing class.'
How will a television viewing society change by sending SMSes or by a donation of a few million rupees by a corporate house?
Aamir Khan is trying to be the male Oprah Winfrey and more. In a nation with one billion-plus people and one billion-plus stories, Aamir Khans are needed, yes, but Aamir can only add value to his image and gift TRPs to Star Plus and Doordarshan if he tries to make an impact on the issue by the 'market' route.
Aamir's marketing department seems to have been in overdrive. Make-up kuch zyaada hai! Fine packaging is not desirable when the stuff inside is about the real India.
Bring in some raw energy, Aamir Khan!
Please also read:
Saisuresh Sivaswamy Aamir Khan's concern should be ours too
Sukanya Verma: Don't be cynical about Aamir's 'Satyamev Jayate', watch it!