Aamir Khan's Satyamev Jayate finally hit our TV screens on Sunday, at 11 am — a time of the week usually synonymous with "slow and lazy." I suppose there are a few eager souls out there who leap out of bed at the crack of dawn and cheerily begin dusting furniture or cooking staggering Sunday brunches. But most people, I think, tend to go a bit easy on Sunday mornings. They certainly don't park themselves in front of their TV sets to watch a 90-minute show on female foeticide. But that's what many people — certainly in the millions — did last Sunday, when Aamir Khan made his TV debut with a serious, 'socially responsible' reality show, Satyamev Jayate.
I watched it too and let me say it outright: I liked the show. But before proceeding any further, a few niggles. The start of the episode was underwhelming: the low-energy, self-consciously ruminative wandering about the beach act by Aamir didn't quite cut it. Later, when the show was under way, many of the shots of Aamir — and members of the audience — flicking away tears were not needed. What we were seeing was powerful enough; it didn't need any unnecessary audience manipulation.
But I do believe it is commendable that a big star like Aamir chose to make his TV debut with a show like this. Does the fact that he is allegedly charging Rs. 3 crore per show make the whole exercise seem a bit hollow? Cynics would say it does. But at the end of the day, this is a TV show to which a professional actor is giving his time and talent and branding. If Rs. 3 crore is his market rate, well, lucky him. More importantly, Aamir could have done any kind of show — the remake of an international hit being the most obvious, or a glamorous music-dance programme. But he chose to go down this route. Only a half-wit would disagree that commercially, he's taking a risk. I don't know what topics he will be tackling in future episodes, but they are unlikely to be light-hearted. And quite honestly, how many people would be prepared to sit through a serious, disturbing show about a serious, disturbing social issue unless it was helmed by a big movie star? (And even then, they might not. The Bollywood movie playing on the other channel might be so much more attractive).
To all those people asking (a) why everyone is making such a fuss over Satyamev Jayate when activists have been bringing up issues such as female foeticide for years and (b) whether anyone would have watched the show if it weren't for Aamir, the obvious answer is that it is Aamir's celebrity clout that's making all the difference. That's the reality, so let's just deal with it. We all know that a similar show by an unknown person wouldn't have had anywhere near the impact that this one did.
The good part about the first episode was that it wasn't just about case studies — though the personal stories we heard (of three women, from Ahmedabad, Morena and New Delhi) were among the strongest, most moving parts of the show. Aamir took the trouble to connect the dots — from the depressing statistics to the origin of the practice, to the fallout, to what could be done by each and every viewer.
At 90 minutes, the show is a tad long, but it's gripping and unsettling. If Satyamev Jayate goes beyond being a well-intentioned, Oprah-style, appointment-viewing TV programme, well, that would be Aamir's real victory.