So, as it turns out, women are important. I was reminded of this last Sunday when Aamir Khan descended from the heavens and broadcast his message against female foeticide through 'Satyamev Jayate', a show that was watched by about seventeen billion people, including tribes that have not been discovered yet. And the verdict is out: Aamir Khan is the messiah that all messiahs go to when they're down and out, and need someone to intensely stare at them.
I'm sure you've all noticed the Aamir Stare™. It's impossible not to, what with Aamir having created vantage points out of every hoarding on every road in every city, from which he launches his soul-piercing gaze, conveying a mix of sincerity, intensity and smelled-a-fart-and-liked-it-maybe-I-need-to-revaluate-my-life.
Don't worry - this isn't going to be a diatribe against Satyamev Jayate. I quite like the show, and respect the efforts and ambitions of the brains behind it. Based on the current state of Indian TV, I can only imagine the confusion that went through the conference room when an idea like this was first pitched to TV execs, whose idea of 'revolutionary programming' otherwise involves some old bat tormenting her bahu to death, after which the bahu extracts revenge by being reborn as a haemorrhoid in the saas.
Just take a second to picture Aamir selling the idea to a roomful of marketing guys...
Aamir: I want to do a serious, no-frills show that raises awareness about India's biggest problems. I'm thinking of beginning with female foeticide.
Marketer 1: Ooh, I like it! Then we can also line up a bunch of foetuses and ask the audience to tell us via SMS which ones they want to save, and which ones they want to eliminate. Solid branding we'll get.
Marketer 2: But can these foetuses sing or dance?
Marketer 3: Also, can we have those two bald dudes from Roadies? They can look at the foetus and yell, "TU BABY BANEGA? BABY BANEGA **@#%$*!?? TU NE AAJ TAK KIYA HI KYA HAI??"
I'm more interested in the reactions generated after the show. As expected, there are the hardcore optimists who are elated at Aamir taking a stand, because it means that they don't have to do any real work. And on the other hand are the cynics and the naysayers, who accord Aamir the same respect you'd accord a Nigerian dude trying to sell you aphrodisiacs. While you're in bed.
What was really interesting was that both these camps ended up comparing Aamir to Anna Hazare. Of course, they're both wrong. Aamir and Anna are two very different people. One is a popular celeb who is also known to be a publicity-seeking missile, and the other is Aamir Khan.
A common reaction that completely baffles me, though, is, "If Aamir is sincere, then how dare he charge Rs 3 crore an episode?" Really, people? You're upset that a professional is charging market rates in exchange for his services? It's a stupid reaction, given that Salman gets about Rs 80-100 crore for promoting Bigg Boss - a show whose only contribution to society is that it keeps the likes of Ashmit Patel locked far away from regular humans for a few days in a year.
Aamir's going to be around for a while, given the multitude of social ills like untouchability, caste politics, religious discrimination, Parliament etc, that makes India the sociological equivalent of an AIDS patient. Call me a cynic if you will, but I think talking can only do so much. It's time for change, so SMS 'Y' to 58883 to get those creepy Aamir hoardings removed now.
(Ashish Shakya is a writer and a stand-up comic. He co-writes the TV satire, The Week That Wasn't. Sometimes he's even sober while doing so.)