Sunday June 10, 2012
Dare to be different
By Coomi Kapoor
Unlike other Bollywood icons who anchor entertainment shows on TV, Aamir Khan highlights social ills in a new weekly documentary.
YOU have to hand it to Aamir Khan. Whatever he does, he does it on such a grand scale and in great style that it invariably catches the eye of the nation. The thinking man’s Bollywood star has now taken it upon himself to educate Indians against some of the more pernicious social evils.
His first two television shows which focused on the contemporary evils of female foeticide and rampant medical malpractices were a huge success. Never before has a talk show on topical problems generated such great hype.
Days before the telecast, Aamir could be seen on myriad television channels, giving lengthy interviews, saying that he was keen to do his bit to wean Indians away from some of the more common social evils.
There was no mistaking his sincerity, even though Bollywood stars are known to be woolly-headed and unaware of the world outside the confines of the film industry.
But Aamir was different. Last year, he openly supported Anna Hazare’s campaign to set up an empowered anti-corruption Lokpal (Ombudsman).
Aamir came down from Mumbai to the public venue where Hazare was sitting on a hunger fast to force the Government to set up the Ombudsman and occupied a vintage position next to him.
Besides, unlike the movies of the other Khan heroes – that is, Shah Rukh and Salman – Aamir’s recent box-office hits have tried to send out a strong message.
His super-duper hit Three Idiots offered a biting critique of the education system which emphasised learning by rote without any mental or intellectual inspiration. Again, in Rang De Basanti, he exhorted the youth not to accept injustice and corruption.
Peepli Live, a film produced by him, was a biting satire on the race for eyeballs among various television news channels even at the cost of truth and justice.
So, when Aamir’s maiden television show premiered on May 6, there was a good deal of expectation. And Aamir did not let down anyone. For full 90 minutes, he highlighted the growing incidence of female foeticide in all its troubling aspects, interviewing women who had been forced to abort against their will. Each woman who tellingly and most movingly, narrated her story, blamed her mother-in-law and husband for the forced foeticide because they hated the idea of a girl-child.
Peering deep into the lives of the victims, Aamir managed to extract heart-rending tales, keeping the focus on the theme in hand rather than hogging the limelight himself. But because he was the sympathetic and understanding anchor, Amisha, Parveen and Mitu, as well-known television critic Shailaja Bajpai noted, felt moved enough to “bare their calloused souls”.
Wrote Bajpai: “Listening to Parveen describe the disfigurement of her face, Mitu her mother-in-law’s kicking the pram down the stairs or pregnant Amisha being forcibly sedated for an abortion, you do not want to switch to another Sunday re-run of Jab We Met (a popular Hindi movie).”
Aamir questioned young bachelors in the north Indian State of Haryana, who lamented that there were not enough women available for them to marry.
Since Haryana had the dubious distinction of the worst gender ratio among all the States, its men sought brides from as faraway as Kerala, the southern most State in the country.
In the maiden episode, a sting operation carried out by Aamir’s team revealed how unscrupulous doctors and ill-qualified nurses were illegally carrying out sex determination tests and then offering their services for a huge fee to abort the female foetus.
Aamir also quoted facts to inform the viewers about the prevalence of foeticide in the States.
The second episode concerned the rampant medical malpractices. Given that everyone has either personally experienced, or knows of someone who has, the growing practice of doctors prescribing needless tests in order to receive kickbacks from labs offering such services as full body scan, ECG and treadmill test.
Aamir interviewed a number of people who had suffered at the hands of unscrupulous medical practitioners.
In this regard, major hospital chains were equally blameworthy. Thus, highlighting the medical malpractice, Aamir struck a chord with the viewers. Afterwards, a number of doctors complained that the show was one-sided and portrayed them in poor light.
Without doubt, with his two episodes, Aamir had created a lot of buzz in the media. The TRPs (Television Rating Points) of his show were reasonably high considering viewers usually tend to avoid watching serious stuff even if it concerns everyday life.
But because it was Aamir and he was focusing on the problems of the common man, he could hold the attention of the viewers. Aamir had cleverly leveraged his superstardom to sell a show which highlighted the rampant social evils.
However, it is a moot point whether he would continue to draw television audiences for the remaining shows. The 13-episode series is to be aired on Sundays between 11am and 12.30 pm.
Even though Aamir is backed by a positive buzz on the social media such Twitter and Facebook, it is still not certain that even he can keep the audiences glued to the show, especially when hundreds of other channels, a vast majority of them entertainment, are only a flick of the TV remote away.
Whatever the TRPs of the coming episodes of Satyamev Jayate (Truth is supreme), as the show is named, Aamir needs to be congratulated for daring to be different from other icons of Bollywood. Others, like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan essentially anchored entertainment shows on television.
However, Aamir in his maiden television show has dared to be different and serious, setting him apart from the other Khans of the film industry. As someone said, he was trying to be the male Oprah Winfrey.