Truth - Satya - Does the word sound a little too familiar or is it just a vague 'rings a bell'?? Satyamev Jayate or Truth Always Triumphs...Over the past five days, I have been bombarded by people asking me if I have seen it, telling me what they thought of it, inquiring of me what I thought of it...So much so that, without watching the episode, I know so much about Aamir Khan's maiden foray into television Satyamev Jayate.
I must confess, I am yet to watch the episode ( the review shall definitely be another post) but there have been so many conversations that I have had relating to the show, that I thought it made for a compelling post.
So let's begin on the premise - was it the pre-series buzz that generated so much interest in a show that airs at 11 AM on Sunday on Star World? If we go by Star World's promotion strategies, it isn't like they did a lot for this show that wasn't done for other shows ( Read Kaun Banega Crorepati) So strike that out. Is it the secrecy around Aamir Khan Productions' television foray and then seeing the 'perfectionist' Khan bring down his massive stature on the silver screen to the comparatively diminutive television screen? That is a thought we can hold on to for a while, at least till we look at other factors!
I remember seeing around three promos of Satyamev Jayate in the weeks before its debut. It had the stamp of Aamir Khan's 'out of the clique' marketing all over it. (I hate 'out of the box' as a term and more importantly, its a little too punny when you use it in the television context.) However, my grouse with the promo was it was too much about Aamir Khan's descent into the world of television - years after his peers, Shah Rukh and Salman had made the journey. Now that Aamir was making his appearance, it was as if the teasers had to be about him and why he was doing it, rather than what to expect with the show.
This brings me to the show - As usual, as is the case with most of AK productions, secrecy was a tight shroud around the project. I must admit, I knew the kind of show this was going to be, thanks to Facebook feelers from a dear friend who is part of the research team involved in the project. That she was one of the people involved was in fact one of those sub-psychological reasons why I thought this show might pack some punch. In fact, this could also be the reason why I have been actively accumulating all the views I can gather around the show without letting my opinion be coloured by what appears to be the trending opinion.
The truth is, these days I'm not much of a television hogger. The only shows that are watch-by-appointment in my current diary are Top Gear and Come Dine With Me on BBC Entertainment. There are days when I miss it and I don't really struggle to check out when the re-runs are. So that I guess categorises me into an occasional television watcher as against permanent couch potatos or bored surfers. It is also the reason why I wasn't looking forward to Satyamev Jayate on 11 AM on Sunday. I was out for brunch and had my social media radar on the OFF mode( read as Twitter and Facebook update). It was a phone call from a dear friend at noon that informed me about the debut of the show and how she was utterly disappointed with the show that promised cerebral to her and left her with Bollywood drama ( I paraphrase her passionate review into two short phrases). And the trickle of opinions coming my way became a flurry, then a rivulet and soon a barrage. Opinion can be like a wagging tail and every dog has one (or pretends to have one) and I believe every one is entitled to one too!
So here is the sum total of what I have made of the opinions that the show has generated so far on the first topic raised - the complex issue of female foeticide.
Young, Zealous Urban-India based Women's Rights Activist - Disappointed at the dramatisation of a subject as grave as female foeticide, the approach taken towards understanding and tackling it. Most disappointed with Aamir Khan's shock and expressions taken close where he appears to be unable to come to terms with the 'truths' uncovered on the show. The vehement protest is against the amorphous way in which a topic that she and several others are working earnestly on and the sense of trivialisation the show brought to the complex, multi-faceted issue.
Facebook Gurus/Twitteratti - Good, Bad and the Ugly...I shall leave the category vague with the just this analysis of my own based on the results gleaned from my page that the gushes were more than the Awww-Nos....At least 50 friends on my vast Facebook Database had made Satyamev Jayate a trending topic while on Twitter, I just lost count while I was checking it late Sunday night. Everyone had an opinion and most of urban India seemed to feel that a serious issue had finally been given airtime on Indian television that is currently sinking in the morass of saas-bahu-saazish and mind-numbing reality programming like Bigg Boss.
Retired Parents of Thirty Somethings with Regular TV Habits - The vows were taken promptly at 12 to make Satyameva Jayate compulsory viewing, and appointment viewing at that. That I guess is the impact of beginning a series with an explosive topic like Female Foeticide. A topic that urban India publicly acknowledges as 'heinous' while privately, it appears, or as the show says, endorses, encourages and in many cases even subscribes to! For once, they say Aamir Khan is bringing the topic back to the table and it isn't the news channels, that raise it, create a stink, discuss it ad nauseam on prime time news shows and then conveniently shelves it till the next sensational story on the subject takes shape.
Veteran Activists Working on Women's Rights Issues: The way Aamir Khan dealt with the issue completely obfuscates the debate around the right to choice for the woman, bringing in the controversial topic of Right to Abortion. Discussing Female Foeticide without exploring the grey areas of abortion makes the case made out by the show to be rather one-sided and more frighteningly, a campagin against a woman's right to decide whether she will keep the baby or no. In fact, the bigger question was if there was specific data that differentiates abortions done following tests for sex-determination and those done due to the sole reason that sex-determination showed a female foetus.
Young Urban Working Women: "Satyamev Jayathe- If the first episode is anything to go by, I can see my Sunday mornings starting pretty early" Robbed straight off someone's status update, to demonstrate the thumbs up the show got! My sister, who unlike me, I'd categorise into the avid-television watcher with a wide tolerance for shows - stupid and wise, wanted me to watch the show. In fact, it was the discussion with her that sealed my decision to post it and then raise the debate in the blogosphere. Her rationale was simple - for a generation that is numbing its mind and brain watching reality shows, this show was a reality-check. So there is a bit of dramatisation, but what issue in India - be it birth, death or whatever in between is not dramatised? The dialogues we speak in daily life reek of 'nautanki' or drama, so if Aamir is using a bit of cinematic license to sensationalise an issue that is rarely spoken of, what's the harm??
I concur with the last observation even before watching the show - I have never seen so much debate over a serious social ill like female foeticide. My sister narrated a couple of stories that were said during the show - stories that were chilling, told by women who were emboldened by all that they had been through to share their reasons for aborting their girl child or being forced to contemplate an abortion. I think it was shocking to her to realise that female foeticide is not a problem that can be categorised as 'something that happens in circles that are not mine'. It was the educated, the sensitised and often the discerning who were taking part in this form of gender-discrimination.
Unfortunately in our society, we believe the educated are a league apart. That education guarantees civilised, discerning and humane behaviour. Our society is proof that that is far from the truth. We have a public moral to uphold and private morals to live by. We tsk-tsk customs and traditions in public and run to fulfil them in private to ensure no other-worldly wrath falls us. We talk of the need to conserve crores and crores of rupees spent on unnecessary trappings of urbanisation and modernisation in our cities and mofussil towns and then privately take pleasure in hoarding these very trappings - be it cars, luxury apartments or even smaller luxuries like international brands!
The show might be flawed on content but as someone who has been a part of programming and content generation for shows, I believe it is difficult to cover all aspects of a complex problem within a span of sixty minutes of which at least 10 minutes are devoted to commercials. To me the biggest dare that Aamir Khan productions has taken up is having the guts to put their neck out to talk about social issues like female foeticide on an English-dominated entertainment channel like Star World. And more importantly, devote a team to tracking the outcome of raising these issues - so that unlike news channels where debates peak at prime time and disappear the moment another sensational story arrives, there is an effort made to cash in on the clout of Aamir Khan's persona to wangle promises to look into such atrocities.
Do I sound as if I already tacitly endorse the show? Not really or must I say Not yet! I am just putting the views on the table. Let's debate it. Healthy debates and discussions are a good way to take the topic forward. More importantly, a way to emerge at new formats to mobilise civil activism, that is not merely restricted to the social media or even a few reading clubs.
The big question is what is our objection to the show? Is it topical or the dramatisation/trivialisation of serious issues by a celluloid star whose reactions might appear to make him look cut off from the ground realities, or that we as a nation like to keep discussions like these to more 'serious' forums and not the television which is meant to provide mindless entertainment and little else?