It was a show that flew in the face of conventional television wisdom. A ‘judge’ who wasn’t really a judge heard ‘cases’ and handed out ‘verdicts.’ The show is the just-concluded Aap Ki Kachehri, Kiran Ke Saath. And the ‘judge’ is Dr Kiran Bedi, India’s first female IPS officer.
The cases seemed straight out of some saas bahu serial: a wife being abused by her husband, an elderly couple abandoned by their children... But unusually, they were presented without any melodrama.
“A woman’s tears can’t scare me and a man can’t shout or use his muscle power to intimidate me,” says Bedi.
“That was a clear understanding and anybody who came on my show knew it. Neither the programming heads of the channel (Star Plus) nor I wanted to dramatise already bad situations. So it was a conscious decision to be real, sensitive and yet detached.”
There was a message in the show and it was simple. Victims were shown they had a voice. And perpetrators were shown that they couldn’t get away with bad behaviour. “I believe we sent that message very well,” says Bedi. “We try and give people a direction, options on how to sort out their lives. The decision whether to follow it or not, is theirs.”
But the most commonsensical approach in the world would not have worked if the ‘judge’ had not been Dr Kiran Bedi. And that’s the second reason Aap Ki Kachehri did so well. Because Bedi’s 35 years in the IPS proved that she was tough, but fair.
But wasn’t TV something that went completely against her very stern real persona? “This wasn’t some glamour show I was doing. What pulled me to it was the authenticity of the programme,” says Bedi. “This is what I have done for 35 years of my life – heard, corrected, reformed and rehabilitated. So whether I do it on screen or off, it does not matter.”
What of the endorsement that she is doing for the Nomarks crème? Isn’t that biting the commercial bait? “I don’t think so. The Nomarks ad is a straight ad for good, healthy skin. It’s a natural product that says nothing about beauty. Instead, it’s about feeling and being healthy. It juxtaposes healthy skin with healthy character,” she says.
Better than cure
But what Bedi is best known for is reform. She got the Ramon Magsaysay Award winner for the reforms she introduced during her stint at Tihar, the country’s biggest jail. “Punishing the already punished has never been my agenda,” she says. “Someone who is already in jail has anyway been deprived of his basic rights. Why repeatedly castigate him or her in that case? The same goes for their families who are also suffering.”
Bedi’s ideas tend towards prevention rather than punishment. “That has to be the cause,” she says. “Otherwise it doesn’t work.”
For instance, when she was deputy commissioner of police, West Delhi, in 1980, Bedi managed to break the back of illicit liquor manufacturers in her division. West Delhi was known as ‘Wet Delhi’. There was a determined campaign and she made sure that no illicit liquor either manufactured or sold anywhere in the area. “In six months, ‘Wet Delhi’ was dry Delhi,” laughs Bedi.
And, oh yes. The people who lost incomes when the illegal trade closed were all rehabilitated. Those were busy times. But now, says Bedi, she’s busier than ever. “There’s TV and the various NGOs I support. All my money from TV goes to them, so they make sure I keep at it,” she laughs.
Siddhartha Basu, producer of Aap Ki Kachehri, talks about the show and its anchor...
Why did you pick Kiran Bedi to anchor the show?
Her reputation as a compassionate cop, of being a frank, fearless and fair law-enforcer. Her willingness to go into no-man’s land. And her no-nonsense, let’s cut the crap and get to the point attitude. It was a pretty obvious choice, and everyone agreed.
What are the positives that you feel she added to the show?
She cares, she’s quick, and she’s a forceful communicator. It’s law with a heart that comes through on the show, and that appeals to the emotional intelligence of viewers. She’s adapted well to the format of the show on which it takes a lot to keep things simple, combining narrative interest with the balance of a hearing, and the logic of law. It helps that she’s open to sound suggestions, fast on the uptake, and works hard at it, but most of all, she cares enormously for what the show’s all about.
What should the viewer expect from the second season of the programme?
For one, Aap ki Kachehri is going on the road, widening the scope as it reaches out beyond Delhi to other cities. For the rest, work is in progress, and you’ll have to keep watching.