The universe is such a bizarre space; it is alright to be cautious. With flourishing opportunists in the garb of do-gooders in every second corner, even cynicism feels like an act of self-protection. In order to shield oneself from inevitable disappointment, one starts to doubt the motive of everything remotely genuine.
But it’s not recommended.
Let me explain.
To tell you the truth, I wasn’t too pleased with the aggressive promotional campaign of Aamir Khan’s debut on small screen. He is one of the few Hindi film actors with a distinct growth graph from confection to consistent and a rare achievement of pursuing success on his own terms and strategy.
Except that the righteous and preachy vibe he gives out in the publicity spots, billboards and soap opera appearances (Diya Aur Baati Hum) of Satyamev Jayate, which went on air this morning on Star Plus, left me grimacing big time. Marketing and meaningful almost never cross paths, you see.
I felt as though my suspicions were confirmed at the start of the programme with a visual of Aamir Khan and his lump-in-the-throat voiceover reflecting the sorry state of our nation and its diverse issues in a lengthy but articulate monologue against the sunset on a vacant beach. It’s a familiar tone. He has conveyed such idealism about academics in 3 Idiots and dyslexia in Taare Zameen Par.
‘Bah, gyaan!’ I grumble under my breath. (Sunday sleep is sacred.)
The actor/filmmaker was, reportedly, adamant on an early morning Sunday slot pointing out how back in the 80s, we would wake up rubbing our eyes to catch a series of our favourite shows.
Only cable television wasn’t rampant at that time and Sunday morning was exclusively reserved for some of the best family shows aired between seven to noon.
The entertainment scene has grown dramatically since then. And so has the thickness of our skin. Aamir only wishes to pinch it somewhat. This realisation comes to me within the first ten minutes of Satyamev Jayate, which works as a platform to discuss social issues and injustices, a celebrity-hosted forum that concerns itself with highlighting reality, debating its effects, analysing its outcome and suggesting a solution.
The subject of today’s discussion, directed by Satyajit Bhatkal, is female feticide.
First, how do I feel about this issue? Honestly, I have never thought about it. My parents wanted me dearly. It’s a special, secure feeling. The idea of them wanting me dead even before I came out into this world is unthinkable. Not everyone is as privileged and desired as I or perhaps you reading this.
We keep reading in newspapers about discoveries of female fetuses in the garbage. A precious life reduced to a discarded banana skin. It’s frightening. It’s reality.
Satyamev Jayate acquaints us with women from different sections of society and reveals their individual battle with their husbands and in-laws for giving birth to a girl child. A lady from Ahmedabad underwent multiple abortions without her knowledge in a sedated state.
A man in Madhya Pradesh literally ate off his wife’s face because she went ahead with her pregnancy with a girl in her womb. But, most shocking, was how a well-educated family of doctors and academicians in Delhi tormented their daughter-in-law, also a doctor, for carrying girl twins.
Following these painful disclosures, Aamir brings attention to how badly this has altered the sex ratio in India. For every 1000 boys, there are 914 girls. How this leads to an overwhelming population of bachelors, regression , eve-teasing and the practice of women being bought from different states to marry one/resold to marry another with the sole purpose of procreation and extending the family tree.
A medical representative is called upon to reveal how this unethical practice is a thriving business with many doctors offering a ‘package deal’ of misusing ultrasound (for sex-determination) followed by abortion in case of a girl child.
Up next, a pair of journalists comes in to reveal some appalling footage of a sting operation they conducted inside various clinics across India. Things aren’t always so bleak. In Punjab’s Nawanshahr, a collector’s efforts to bring awareness and eradicate this evil reduced the gap in percentage encouragingly.
All through the proceedings, many members of the studio audience are shown shedding tears or expressing shock. Every so often, the camera settled to focus on a tearful Aamir as well. (He is a no-nonsense host but could try and be more spontaneous, relaxed and accessible. He doesn’t have to tweak his lips all the time to conceal its quiver.)
Personally, I don’t think either is necessary. The content is powerful enough to warrantee a reaction. It doesn’t require any additional visual cues to do so.
As for me, I felt a mix of disgust, empathy and a distinctly queasy sensation in my stomach. I also felt silly about my reservations.
It made sense now why Aamir would go all out to promote it like he did. Let’s be honest, we are comfortably apathetic to wake up at 11am and watch a chat show on India’s never-ending troubles — social or economical. But it hits you that the idea is to wake up and smell the shit so that someday, Sunday marks a bright morning for one and all.
This is a grand initiative and a sound format into which a lot has been invested — monetarily as well as in terms of research. Will it bring about a change? I don’t know. But, at least, it will bring a larger scale of shame to its offenders. To that man who bit his wife’s face leaving her deformed for life. To that urban, educated family who didn’t want anything to do with the twins.
Deriding this show simply because it is hosted by a Bollywood actor who is also a marketing whiz, questions our credibility, not his.
This article was first published on rediff.com