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Posterboy of causes on a new mission

delhi Updated: Dec 04, 2010 23:36 IST
Lalita Panicker
Lalita Panicker
Hindustan Times
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The sphinx-like Meira Kumar was anxious to meet him, the glacially opaque Pranab Mukherjee popped out of his room to greet him, Sushma Swaraj hugged him to her maternal personage and to the young MPs, he was one of the lads. In his red bandana and startlingly black moustache, the Peter Pan of the Hindi film industry, Aamir Khan looks like a confusing replica of Jack Sparrow.

But as he talks to HT there is crystal clarity about his latest mission on eradicating hunger and malnutrition (Hungama) in India in his capacity as a member of the Citizens Alliance against Malnutrition.

In the battle against Hungama, an evocative term coined by the infectiously enthusiastic Manoj Kumar, CEO of Naandi Foundation, a Hyderabad-based NGO which is part of the alliance, Aamir has roped in his friend and uber adman Prasoon Joshi. A number of young MPs like Jai Panda, Sachin Pilot and Supriya Sule, among others, are committed to this cause.

Not everyone is willing to take Aamir's espousal of this cause seriously so readily. The minister of state for health Dinesh Trivedi seems to think this is publicity stunt and questions the star's credentials to speak on malnutrition.

But Aamir is not prone to self-doubt. He speaks candidly of his own ignorance of the importance of breastfeeding as the first antidote to malnutrition.

"Fifty per cent of our children are malnourished, they grow up with mental and physical disabilities. Imagine how this affects society as a whole," he says.

The duo met Rahul Gandhi and the PM, both of whom were most supportive. Rahul felt that the key to nutrition lay in empowering the mother. It is only when she is aware of the role of nutrition that she will take care of herself during pregnancy and look after the baby when it is born.

"He felt that information was the key, that a hands-on approach was vital, " Aamir says.

Aamir counts on his mega star wattage to get the message across not just to politicians but also to people. Munching on a chicken sandwich, the pint-sized actor is brimming with ideas on disseminating information on hunger and malnutrition.

"It could be through video on wheels, it could be through ringtones, we need to work out a gameplan, " he says.

He feels that this issue has not got the importance it deserves because it is not physically visible. Not too many people, including women, are aware of the huge role that breastfeeding plays in the battle against malnutrition.

Joshi's wizardry with creative campaigns will be the fulcrum of an publicity blitzkrieg that that two plan to come up. Ideas spill out of him even as his hair gathers static, a contrast to the measured Khan. Based on inputs from Manoj Kumar, the two are also determined to see that data will be collected after the campaign kicks in to see what effect it has. By now Aamir is unstoppable.

"We can think of street theatre, even inserting the messages on malnutrition in popular serials," he says.

If the frisson of excitement which went through our MPs and ministers whenhe visited parliament is a weather vane, then they will put their money where their mouth is for Aamir's drive against hunger and malnutrition.