CAUSES OF CONCERN: Uday Shankar andAamir Khan strike a chord
Satyamev Jayate, the television talk show by Aamir Khan that explores societal glitches, has been making waves.Uday Shankar, CEO, Star Indiadiscusses withThe Hinduits impact and what went into its conception. Excerpts:
Could you take us through the journey ofSatyamev Jayate- how it was conceived, conceptualized and executed. How was the experience of working with Aamir Khan on his debut on television?
As a television network, we have, in recent times, renewed our promise to our viewers to be bold and progressive, to entertain and enlighten, and to tell compelling stories set in the world around them. For a long time, we have been keen to do a programme that puts the spotlight on choices being made in our communities that are important to highlight and understand. It was in this context that I first met Aamir in the winter of 2009 at his residence. He said that he saw the power of TV but he didn't want to do the kind of things that the other Bollywood stars had done. I told him that we came to him primarily because we wanted to do something that would be very different but will be targeted at the mass audiences. We struck up an instant rapport, which sowed the seeds of launching aSatyamev Jayatekind of programme.
Months later, Aamir discussed his SMJ concept with me and we both felt that it was essential to spend time to develop the show given the importance and sensitivity of the issues we wanted to tackle. So, there was a lot of thought and care and effort and love that went into the programme, for more than two years, before the launch in May.
And in Aamir, we found someone as passionate and committed as we were, in this mission. The energy and effort and love he has put into this show is just tremendous. For us, SMJ was the next leap in content innovation.
Did you have any sleepless nights before the show hit the screens? Did you have any apprehensions about the success of the show?
When you are taking such a big commitment which can have significant commercial exposure, it is natural to have many sleepless nights. Do bear in mind that we had decided not to share the details of the show including the name with the advertisers etc. It wasn't traditional entertainment, yet, we decided to take the financial and creative plunge as we believed that as leaders of broadcasting, we have got to be the chief innovators and constantly work towards renewing the social contract that TV has with society. We wanted our viewers to relate with the show as much as we did. We wanted them to see it and feel it as we did. These were not subjects that were commonly discussed in people's homes. But we were also confident that our viewers will trust us to deal with these subjects with care and thought. They expect it from us. And the record viewership numbers and the conversations on the issues raised in the show around the country tell us we have achieved what we set out to do.
Some of the issues that were touched upon inSatyamev Jayate'sinitial episodes have been ailing the society for long. The question is why now and why not earlier?
We would have liked to do it earlier, but we're happy everyone concerned took enough time to create something that is thoughtful and compelling, so it can turn out as good as it has. You are right about the issues. That's why programmes that exude this kind of influence are necessary. As long as there are problems, solutions will never go out of fashion.Satyamev Jayateis not a readymade solution, but it's a platform where people can derive inspiration from and tailor their own solutions.
Satyamev Jayatehas created quite a buzz across the country and is trending on the web. Do you believe this interest that's been generated alone can change mindsets?
The buzz on the show has been historic and unprecedented. It is one of the very few individual events (media or otherwise) to trend on Twitter for two days with such high levels of conversation. The show has reached over 16 crore impressions on Twitter, and interestingly while at the start the conversations were around the show, post show the conversations have moved towards the issue and ‘real action', signalling the stirrings of a movement. This is the power of the medium and the message – to touch hearts and awaken change. Every day we hear stories of change inspired by the show - be it a doctor banning sex selection abortions from his own clinic to 64 clinics losing their license, a child breaking his silence on the subject of sexual abuse, to the government fast tracking the bill. These are stories of change at a personal and societal level. It's a great start. WithSatyamev Jayate, Star has helped sow the seeds of change.
There's been lot of skepticism about the intent of the show. That it is nothing more than a clever ploy to bring in ads? Also, Aamir's been seen as emulating Oprah. Your thoughts?
One can't wish away skeptical theists, can you? And we always welcome criticism, because it helps us make better programmes. But, it is important to recognize that this show was not about revenues and profits for us, it was about continuing on a path which we had consciously started, about the kind of programmes and stories we wanted to share with our viewers. Commercially, we had to take many risks. But we were willing to make the substantial investments and take the risk, and accept that this was not about attractive returns on our investment, because we believe this is what we have to do, as the leaders of the industry. WithSatyamev Jayate, we have tried to put the focus on subjects that are important to us as a country. If we've managed to awaken even a few, then Star would have served as the vehicle of social change.
Where does Star go from here (that is after this 13-episode run gets over)? Replicating this success is going to be difficult, right?
At Star, innovation is a continuous process. With each new show, we hope to give our viewers something new, something entertaining and something that also gives them food for thought without being preachy.
We excel at meeting challenges and our biggest challenge is how to ignite the minds of Indians, how to capture the imagination of an exciting country in exciting times. SMJ has helped us deepen our relationship with our viewers. But, for us, the show is a continuation of a path we are on, and we will have to make sure that we keep setting new benchmarks for the industry. We give viewers narratives that engage their minds and they come back to us again and again. We haven't forgotten what we do – we tell stories, we tell them well and we happen to have managed to add a refreshing and compelling twist.
Source: The Hindu