Time is late breakfasts every Sunday. Nostalgia is watching recreated hour-long bow-and-arrow matches that took place 7000 years ago. Memories are the excitement of watching these hour-long bow-and-arrow matches with parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbours, friends, and random strangers trooping into your house every Sunday at 9:30 AM.
Whatever you want to fault Decrepit Doordarshan, you can’t fault it for being a good example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. For the first time since its miserable beginnings as the propaganda machine of the Congress party, it hit pay dirt with what I retrospectively call Breakfast Gold. The 9:30 A.M. Sunday slot. This slot was at one time considered as being an unpopular time slot. However, it took Ramayan to turn this “unpopular” time slot around on it head and suddenly make it the most sought-after time slot. This remained the case for many years till the advent of private channels erased Doordarshan’s monopoly for good. However, almost all TV channels continue to vie for the “breakfast slot.”
Then on May 6 2012, Aamir Khan happened.
The early days saw a marked indifference of reigning Bollywood stars towards television. It was widely considered that the moment a Bollywood star of some standing began to host talk shows and acted in serials, it meant that their big screen fortunes had faded or were fast fading. The converse was equally true—a TV actor who began to be sought by Bollywood had arrived—there’s no bigger or worse example of this than having Shahrukh Khan thrust rudely upon us. He remains the television world’s most unforgivable sin committed upon the nation.
However, the corporatization of TV and Bollywood upset all calculations and changed pretty much everything. Film production houses now also sport mammoth TV arms and successful TV production houses have been equally successful in making significant dents in mainstream Bollywood. In other words: there’s serious money in Indian television.
Hence Satyamev Jayate.
If you think Satyamev Jayate is about doing good to society, raising awareness about social issues and such other good stuff, you’re stupid or naive or both. It is as commercial as Kaun Banega Crorepati. Only that KBC also helped a few people go home with substantial money while Satyamev Jayate helps only Aamir Khan and his team go home rich.
On principle, I refuse to watch it and thereby help contribute to its TRP. I’ve merely watched snippets on YouTube as part of my research, which reaffirms and leads me to conclude that my principle isn’t entirely unfounded. If anything, Satyamev Jayate is a well-thought farce unleashed upon millions of unsuspecting Indian middle class citizens so that Aamir Khan can make money. It gets everything wrong starting right from the title.
satyameva jayate n?n?ta?
satyena panth? vitato devay?na? |
yatra tat satyasya parama? nidh?nam
Truth alone triumphs; not untruth.
(It is) through truth that the divine path is spread out by which
The sages whose desires have been fulfilled,
Reach the realm where the supreme treasure of Truth resides.
(Mundaka Upanishad, 3.1.6)
The aforementioned verse is the complete context of the phrase Satyameva Jayate. Like so many things that have been perverted with regard to Hindu philosophical concepts, this one too, hasn’t been spared. The Truth here is not truth as is commonly understood (don’t tell lies, tell only the truth, etc); instead, it’s the Ultimate Truth or Self-Realization or Brahman.
It’s unlikely Aamir even knows this context let alone the subtleties and the philosophical school it is derived from. Yet that doesn’t prevent him from using it as the title of his show. Like how Patanjali’s original intent and philosophy of Yoga didn’t prevent charlatans like Deepak Chopra to proclaim themselves as Yoga Gurus. Thus, when Aamir Khan titles his show Satyameva Jayate, what Satya or Truth does he mean to say “Brahman alone triumphs?”
But let’s hear it from the man himself:
Aamir was quite adamant about naming his television show ‘Satyameva Jayate’ as it completely gelled with the theme, which clearly indicates that the show is of, for and belongs to people of India.
Of course, every 2-bit TV show maker will make the same claim: this is not for me, it’s for the people of India, I want to understand and identify with their causes, yadda yadda yadda. Even the maker of a porn movie can make that claim: porn is for other people and it does serve a useful purpose. But somewhere amid this lofty claim, Aamir lets out a secret:
Aamir Khan got to know about the fact that the title ‘Satyameva Jayate’ can’t be registered and as soon as the actor got aware of the fact that he can’t have copyrights of the title
Actually thank God for that. One can only imagine the consequences of having Satyameva Jayate copyrighted.
The “issues” Aamir Khan takes up are merely secondary. What’s alarming is the tenor of each show, which is both sinister and dehumanizing. It falls perfectly in the mould of making money out of other people’s misery. The impact of television/cinema compared to the written word is exponential: get a bunch of people in the studio (or on location), get them to narrate their personal tragedy, prod them with questions precisely targeted to get the tear glands working overtime and beam those images from a hundred different angles. The issue itself fades away into the background: the gory tales of a brutal mother-in-law who almost killed her own granddaughter because it was a baby girl, the heartless doctor for whom money is more important than a human life, the irreparably-burned dowry-victim daughter-in-law….the impact on the TV viewers is tremendous while Aamir & Co laugh happily all the way to the bank. Tragedy works. Every time. Ask Oprah Winfrey, the earliest milker of human misery. Aamir Khan has emerged as India’s Mister Oprah Winfrey albeit a few decades late. Or early if you look at the fact that milking-human-misery type talk shows are still in infancy in India. If Slumdog Millionaire was (rightly) termed “Poverty Porn,” Satyamev Jayate is Misery Porn.
I’ve always maintained that the middle class is a huge contributor to the mess India is in today. Which is why nobody has even bothered to ask what exactly are Aamir Khan’s credentials to sit there on the show and lend self-righteous running commentary about issues he doesn’t have the slightest inkling of? More importantly, the choice of issues he has selected so far—except Child Abuse and People with Disabilities—is revealing. Female foeticide, medical malpractices, dowry & love marriages. Really? Why not talk about abortion, which is also foeticide? He won’t because that’ll rile up the chest-beating, “pink panties” feminist brigade. And dowry, whatever its evils, has also another side: it has been grossly misused especially after Sections 495 & their allies came into being. Self-righteous moaning and screaming on TV in the guise of creating social awareness will get you more fans and TRPs but what that also does is tar the issue with a broad brush. That gets people upset.
And it did. The medical malpractice episode justifiably got the medical community riled up but Aamir being Aaamir, refused to apologize. But the problem with the episode is not who got upset but, again, credentials. A show that is praised for the “amount of research” didn’t bother to check on the misuse of dowry and domestic harassment laws? Or as this piece dissecting Aamir’s meaningless meanderings on medical malpractice shows, Aamir & Co have thrown logic, reasoning, and facts out of the window because…well, their researching eyes were firmly on the bank. They know the exact extent to which the Indian middle class has been dumbed down. Thus Aamir can afford to thunder about not apologizing to the doctors. Doctors are not Bollywoood stars whose every whim the dumbed down junta will indulge and whose every nonsensical uttering they will cheer as gospel truth.
There’s enough and more proof that shows the exact extent to which the TV-addicted middle class has mortgaged its mental faculties on the anvil of celebrity worship. During the prelaunch promos, the middle class refrain went, “Oh! if Aamir Khan is hosting it, it must be fantastic! Just see, it will have a tremendous impact!” and then, after we were collectively visually assaulted in our drawing rooms when the first episode was aired, this refrain became, “Oh man! Hard hitting! What a guy! He’s the only caring actor! He’s proved it again! We need more such shows! Only Aamir can do this! Now this is called a real TV show compared to the crap other channels give!” and in just over 3 episodes, he was firmly in the league of the Super Social Activists. All this when Aamir himself had said:
Through this show we understand the problem of the people, we are not here to make a change. I am no one to change anything. I don`t think I am in the position to change anything else. I feel understanding a problem and feeling it or holding one`s hand or hugging is also important. I may not have the solution, but at least I can hear and understand.
From such “humble” beginnings, he now writes a (puke) column in the Hindu.
It isn’t as if these issues didn’t exist. There’s voluminous documentation of all kinds on these issues. It isn’t as if nobody knew about them. Did it take an Aamir Khan to somehow descend from the Bollywood Heavens and joust the junta awake? If the answer is yes, it’s yet another proof of the junta’s dumbness. Actually (and sadly) the answer is yes and no. Has he jousted them awake? Yes. But only on Sunday between 11 AM – 12 AM. Then it’s business for the junta as usual. That’s the “no” answer.
The jousting-awake worked simply because of the packaging: the clever and purposeful jerking of tears, plus Brand Aamir that he and his team knew would make it a hit show. Besides, in the overall scheme of things these aren’t real issues as heartless as it may sound. These are symptoms of a deeper malaise, a near-total breakdown of ancient civilizational values, and a crude political debauchery that enables such symptoms to erupt into full blown diseases. But then these real issues don’t evoke tears and therefore don’t generate wads of money. If Aamir really wants to understand people, the way to do it is to actually be with them. To visit their houses. To learn their traditions. To eat their food. To talk/learn their language. He’s done none of that but that doesn’t prevent him from pontificating thusly:
Q: In everyday life, how do we treat disabled persons? What is our attitude towards them? What is our philosophy? In 2007, the World Bank conducted a huge all-India survey. It was revealed that about 50 percent people believe disability is a retribution for sins of past lives.
A: Look, this is about a way of thinking. Polio is a disease that cripples. There has been a government campaign for several years now, to provide medicines.The result of this campaign was the # of polio cases declined year after year.In the past 12 months not a single case of polio was reported anywhere in the country.
What does this mean? If it us retribution for past sins why are cases of polio dwindling? Have the tides of sin ebbed in the last decade? << the audience claps>>
Clearly, it has nothing to do with sins of past lives.Yet some cling to this belief. The outcome of this belief is, society becomes insensitive. Disabled persons are ill-treated.
In a line, he dismisses one of the central tenets of Hindu philosophy: the concept of Karma. What’s your bet that he knows zilch about karma? But the audience laps it up because…well, hey because it’s Aamir Khan. The reaction to this ill-conceived show was instantaneous, spontaneous, overwhelming, and widespread. And it’s alarming. And now it’s reached such sickening proportions that come Sunday 11 AM – 12 PM, the Twitter timeline turns into an ugly pukefest resembling a loathsome neighbourhood of gossipy aunties who feel they’re contributing to society by discussing what Aamir Khan is discussing right now on TV. Unsurprising given the crores he and his team have invested in promoting it by making it appear as if they are not promoting it: the pre-launch secrecy, the claim that it was made straight from the heart and every effort to make it an instant success. What belies these lies is slobbering reviews such as this:
His highly emotional chat show, aims at bringing a change in the society. Real people and real stories form the strength of ‘Satyamev Jayate’. First episode of the show aired today, focused on the issue of female foeticide in India. We come across such reports almost everyday in newspapers and news channels, but hardly pay any attention. Aamir Khan deserves an applause for bringing up such a sensitive issue and presenting it in a hard hitting way. The amount of research Aamir and his team has put into the show was clearly visible with the facts and figures presented. Every aspect of the issue was covered with great diligence. The show began with some shocking stories of mothers who struggled to give birth to their girl child and how they are bringing them up now.
For a talk show host who has now morphed into a columnist, social worker and activist of sorts, Aamir’s record of doing his bit on social issues is pretty illustrative:
- The politically-motivated Narmada Bachao Andolan where he identified himself with Medha Patkar who in turn had turned the movement into a personal fiefdom of sorts currying money and influence and now stands discredited.
- Doing a “protest” to get his film Fanaa released in Gujarat
- Supporting the ill-informed Anna Hazare movement
Aamir Khan is a talented actor (I refuse to buy the rest of the packaging that’s added to the “actor” bit: method, thinking, perfectionist, etc), a shrewd person, and quite a crafty businessman. The little-known thing is that he carefully chooses his causes and keeps his religious and political alignments as low key as possible.
He’s one of the staunchest devotees of Allah, is a proud Muslim who has no qualms in asserting that his wives maybe Hindu but he wants his children to always follow only Islam. This would’ve been perfectly all right except that in the same breath he also says:
I hate the division of religion in itself at the behest of mankind themselves…In my eyes religion is religion. I really hate its classification. Anyways…I would say that as far as I am concerned no I am not a highly religious person at all. I believe more in spirituality.
If religion is religion, if you hate classifying it, if you believe only in the Spirit, why do you even mention that your wife is a Hindu but you want your kids to follow only Islam, Mr. Aamir? Who’s doing the dividing now? How he views his wife and kids is his personal business. However, he has now assumed the role of judge and jury and wants only truth to triumph. Which is why it’s necessary to examine where his own life stands in relation to Truth. More importantly, it is snippets like this that give valuable insights into celebrity do-gooders or even ordinary do-gooders who later become celebrities. The innate hypocrisy that in some is evident on the surface hides just beneath it in calculative folks like Aamir Khan. Just like in his show.
Here’s a parting question to Aamir Khan: We always wish you to remain in the pink of health at all times but Allah forbid, if you seek treatment for an illness, where would you go? And if the treatment bill is given to you, would you label it as a medical malpractice? Satyameva Jayate.