Aamir Khan and the girl child – Take 1

In Movie Reviews on May 10, 2012 at 9:19 am

Satyamev Jayate: India’s female foeticide situation is so bad that our Oprah Winfrey is a guy

Expect more Oprahgiri in the next episode of Satyameva Jayate

The twitterati is aflame with pride on this new found social consciousness calling it ‘Oprahgiri’.  These are funny and exaggerated twitter comments that suit my rustic cynicism. I am talking about a new TV show anchored by Aamir Khan, who appears to be a self-styled crusader out to rescue us from all the ills of society.

The ‘magic wand’ he touts, I think, is really essential palliative care for a mass audience who has given up on a search for a cure and has settled down comfortably in their family couches awaiting a puff of this spectacle called Satyamev Jayate.  Episode 1 aired last Sunday and this essay is based on my mild feelings of alienation from this three ring circus.

First to categorize this play, one needs to understand what Aamir is charging us to watch him swirl his magic wand:  He charges Rs. 3 crores per episode, seat and snack of your choice.  The show itself is billed as generating the most advertisement rupees, charging upwards of Rs. 10 lakhs per 10 second slot of airtime beating IPL’s Rs. 3 lakhs per 10 second slot.  Viewer contributions are directed to one single NGO and there is a rupee-to-rupee match made by Reliance who is a social partner of SJ.  This my friends, is a pay-per-view crusade against the baddies.  Just like I felt we were winning the war on terror watching Die Hard, I had this vicarious thrill of punishing the evil doers watching Satyamev Jayate.  I know I could do more than just sit there but I was comfortably numb by then.

The discussion revolves around the selective gender termination practice going on in India, namely female fetecide, thus impacting the gender ratio to an extent that bachelors are thrust into a marriage bazaar and the girls while in much demand are also dehumanized and commoditized in this bazaar.

Societal change has been thrust center stage in this home theater and it is entertaining to empathize with a cast of characters and to pretend we have never seen them at other public places in our lives.  Such cathartic empathy should be allowed to express itself in the privacy of our homes.  We should be left alone to nurse it with pride in the after-glow of our tele-tubes long after the title songs and credits roll by.

Educate them out of regressive ideas, employ them out of repressive poverty, govern them towards progressive growth.

The panacea for social change, from terrorism to female feticide has always hovered around these elements. Who should then initiate this multi-pronged change? I believe it should be the government.  We have just eradicated polio with a massive govt participation.  The scale for the societal change is equally massive and cannot be wrought by a few like-minded good-natured NGOs.

There are many social ills that are waiting in line to be eradicated. World bank will not fund all of them. These are pestilences we showered upon ourselves and need a massive program to mobilize troops to eradicate them.

For the govt to wash it’s hands off of social behavior is easy. They continue to benefit from illiterate and poor vote banks along Dalit and religious lines. As an individual, our sin is in not demanding a better government. It is obvious our small NGO contributions will prove to be ineffective for this countrywide massive vaccination against social ills.

The TV serial hence, if it promotes a stronger citizen action against our temporary custodians, it would have done it’s job well. I wish such serials run way past their TRP half-lives, because I believe they have come to signify the *only* agent provocateur around in this country. I am forced to respect that, as in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is indeed king!

This is a fabulous show. I think the message is potent and the messenger delivers it with aplomb. The script with it’s staged audience applauses was visible and slightly disconcerting. But in the context of a TV show, that is to be forgiven. This is eventually a quasi-documentary packaged in an easy to deliver and consume tetra-pack.

My worry here is that Episode 2, next week will veer towards a greater problem. call it Problem #2, thus even before we can take action on Problem#1 we have been transported to Scene 2. This repeated gushing of tears and quick air-drying of the same will leave one well rooted on the couch. Let Khan do the messaging and the all important execution too, we may even resign our will to get up.  Let the magic wand twirl.

The call to action has been given. It may drown out in the din of successive calls to other actions from the same megaphone. How will the first call be threaded into the second episode? Will the continuity bring about a persistant push to action? Who will get off their couch and pay heed to these warning signs? The metrics were always there. The unmarried youth and the shortage of brides have been written about before. We were amused then. What has changed now, that we shed a tear?

If the only change is that Khan is delivering the message, we are in deep trouble. Because Khan cannot and will not be the answer to all our societal problems. We are.

To summarize then:

The good:

1. Aamir has proven that an entertainment value in social activism exists. The risk and hence the barrier to entry has been lowered. Expect many more copy-cat issue mongers to be spawned.  We certainly need all of them to push the lever down and raise our awareness up.
2. There is an eager mass of people awaiting in the ranks that believe (social activism = gadget clicktivism).  This ‘revolution’ will be tweeted and we love it! The good is that at least the message will be spread.
3. These are issues that have been resurrected from our ‘aise hi hota hai’ psyche to ‘aisa nahin hona chahiye’ (from ‘this is how it is’ to ‘this is not how it should be’). This expression of a symptom is key to a diagnosis.
4. The relevant statistics to boost the potency of the issue are provided.
5. May the stare be with you
6. The issues, after all said and done, are much greater than the thespian purveying it.  Hence the stories must be told.

The bad:

1. This is not a revolution or a movement. suffice to say, we will hold on to the red flags, rooted comfortably in our couches with a box of kleenex at arm’s reach.
2. The solutions on offer are super-simplified and barely make a dent in the alleviation of these issues.
3. The issues are not tracked but are literally forgotten after the first hour of telecast. These are endemic diseases and cannot be eradicated by token signatures met with thunderous applause. One viewer complained it was depressing and he was tuning in to an IPL cricket match to chill. Ab bolo satyamev jayate!
4. Issue tracking towards a social resolution is critical and this show does not provide a platform for voicing early challenges or success by early adopters of the crusade. While we breathe in an issues, we are not permitted to exhale!  Maybe the show’s weekly episodic promiscuity towards a smorgasbord of issues, make us forget to exhale!
5. The expression of a symptom is not the same as finding it’s root cause or offering a meaningful cure. The kiss, hug and band-aid are palliative, not curative medical practice.
6. AK is showing us a mirror that reflects our blind selves:  we know these issues exist but we turn a blind eye to them.  It’s not easy to be able to groom ourselves into a presentable society, but we shall try.  These quick-fix solutions makes me think that we are not combing ourselves but combing the mirror!
7. We so much want AK’s reality distortion field where we have championed the cause, fought it and won hands-down. All within the span of an hour. In this reality distorted hour, bash on regardless, ya’ll.





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