Mother dearest was talking about 'Satyamev Jayate' and the SMS that Aamir Khan, the show's host, had asked all viewers to send. The text messages will apparently help back his request to the Rajasthan government to set up a fast track court, so that doctors who were caught practicing female foeticide are brought to justice.
With the first episode of 'Satymev Jayate' telecast, the verdict is out and it's divided. The nation was waiting with bated breath for Aamir Khan's foray into television. You couldn't miss the show even if you wanted to; such was the promotional blitz before its debut. Aamir's carefully cleared up face looked down at you dauntingly from virtually every billboard and the show's musical jingle never lost an opportunity to ring into your ears. Amidst all this, apprehension was widespread and certain sections seemed to be waiting for an opportunity to trash the movie star who once again was attempting to turn public sentiment into a commercial success.
Like the bulk of this country's populace, my mother too takes most things at face value. Who better than her for me to gauge from what the average Indian thought about the show? "So what if he is making money through it" mom said, "at least he is doing something good, at least he is creating awareness."
While I couldn't disagree with her, I still had a problem with the sudden exalted status people were quick to elevate the show's host and producer Aamir Khan to. How was this any different from Taare Zameen Par, Peepli Live, Lagaan or Rang de Basanti? Yes, 'Satyamev Jayate' puts across a social message, but then so did those films. Yes, the show narrated real life stories and relied completely on fact not fiction, but then there have been many such other attempts on Indian television. IBN 7's Zindagi Live, Sony's Crime Patrol and NDTV's India Matters are just some examples of shows that have brought real issues facing Indians to the fore. These are shows that have developed very loyal, captive audiences but without the accompanying media bombardment.
The dastardly act of getting rid of an unwanted female foetus is without a shadow of doubt a grave issue that plagues the country I belong to. I'm no stranger to the problem either. Courtesy the journalism school I studied at, I sat through a number of workshops on the subject and travelled to Khammam, Andhra Pradesh in 2003 to learn more about the social evil, when the then collector was waging a lonely battle against the practice.
Would I appreciate any effort made to bring those guilty for such a heinous crime to book? Of course yes. I also found the show a good break from the IPL and clearly much better than the regressive 'family' dramas that are flooding my screen. But does all this take away from my right to point out that the motive is not just social service? Does my being skeptical really equate to being cynical about the positive effect it may have?
Aamir Khan and his production house have carefully crafted an Oprah Winfrey-like, TRP generating, mass mobiliser. There is the deliberate attempt to have people equate the show with The Ramayana and The Mahabharatha by choosing a similar time slot. There are the close ups of an emotional Aamir empathising with the interviewee's plight and there are the horror stricken faces of members in the audience. Why today's episode even had a comic interlude replete with a reference to Salman Khan.
An entertainment channel that has earned its Number 1 status through saas-bahu serials wouldn't pump so much money and effort into a show without delving into what profit it could bring them. Aamir himself is reportedly earning Rs 3 crore per episode. Charity clearly doesn't come cheap.
Yes, I admire Aamir Khan. I admire him for being a good actor, for never missing a marketing opportunity, for being smart enough to know how to package social ills and indeed himself. If his equity helps raise important issues then there is no harm in it. Let's just hope concrete action outweighs empty rhetoric.
Sure you can kick back and watch 'Satyamev Jayate' every Sunday morning. There are far worse things you could do. But hold on to the applause for Aamir's so-called noble act. You and I are smarter than that.
And remember - Aamir Khan is not perfect. After all, he hasn't gifted everyone in the audience laptops or a trip to Australia yet.