Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
India not shining — on prime-time TV
Film-maker Madhur Bhandarkar said during an interview that “Indian audiences don’t like to see reality on screen, they see enough of that in life”. Bhandarkar is known for making “real” films, but he might have hit the nail on the head. Perhaps that is why Indian TV doesn’t normally depict “reality” on screen — preferring instead to hide behind yards of brocade sarees and scheming mothers-in-law and coy brides.
On Sunday though, Bollywood actor Aamir Khan chose to tell the story of a different kind of Indian woman — one that doesn’t get to live. On the first episode of his new talk show “Satyamev Jayate”, Khan chose to talk about female foeticide, a rampant issue in India, where the sex ratio is currently at its lowest since independence.
The 47-year-old interviewed women who had been forced to abort their girl children, reporters who had conducted sting operations on the issue and researchers who had done considerable work in the field.
As Khan himself noted, countless people have worked to save these little girls. I wonder how they must feel when they see an issue so close to their hearts being discussed on prime-time television on a show that’s already being talked about.
Does the fact that Aamir Khan is talking about it make female foeticide a problem that will go away soon? Do Indians not know that their daughters are being killed every day? As Bhandarkar said, don’t they know enough of reality already? Do we need to put it on television as well?
Given the response to his show on social networking sites, the answer might be a yes. Ratings for the show are yet to come in, but “SatyamevJayate” was the top trending topic on Twitter all day, with many viewers crediting Khan for creating awareness about issues that need to be discussed.
This is a departure from the normal reality TV format that Indian networks follow — most of the shows are competitions or voyeuristic endeavours like “Bigg Boss”. A talk show format on prime-time television hasn’t been tried, but the Rupert Murdoch-owned Star TV has bet big on this show — investing heavily in promotions and Khan’s reported fee of 30 million rupees per show.
Khan seemed earnest, at times a bit too earnest, and concerned enough about the plight of the girl child in India, and there were ample cuts to audience members wiping away tears. You might even be tempted to believe that this was Khan’s way of giving back to society, as he has claimed. But after all that good Samaritan act, when he exhorts you to SMS your support to this cause , you realise this is business after all — and good television makes for good business.
(Updates to add: On the show, Aamir Khan said the money from the SMSes would be donated to Snehalaya, an NGO working towards eradicating female foeticide.)