Since the launch of its first season in May 2012, Satyamev Jayate, or "Truth Alone Prevails," has become a centerpiece of the national conversation in India. STAR TV's groundbreaking social awareness series features Bollywood star Aamir Khan in conversation with experts, victims, and activists, discussing some of the country's most pressing issues. These conversations, streamed digitally and broadcast on multiple STAR channels in six local languages, have affected political action and have inspired countless individuals throughout India to come forward and share their stories. SMJ created a movement, and reporter Zachary Pincus-Roth covered that movement in a recent issue of LA Weekly.
"In LA, lots of TV creator do charity work, but it's usually separate from their day jobs," Pincus-Roth writes. "In India, many in TV feel an obligation to make the medium itself a force for social justice." Satyamev Jayate and other progressive STAR programs are cases in point for how the media can have a meaningful social impact. Local governments across India have passed new laws as a direct result of SMJ episodes, and STAR shows that feature strong female characters, such as Diya Aur Baati Hum, are working to alter the dominant perception of women as subservient. "We needed to become the mouthpiece for people's aspirations and whatever people didn't like, whatever people thought needed to change," said Uday Shankar, CEO of STAR India.
Shankar also spoke about STAR's ability to deliver social value through its content at an event at the Paley Center for Media earlier this year. "There's a certain amount of premium that society places on media businesses," he said. "I've always--and my bosses have always encouraged me--to challenge the status quo... Our job is to question, to focus the spotlight on what we feel needs to be observed more closely."
While many of STAR's shows address issues like women's rights and the caste system through fiction, SMJ confronts them head on. Aamir Khan was already one of Bollywood's biggest stars when he began working with Shankar to create SMJ. Traditionally, if Bollywood stars of his caliber made the move to television, they would host lighter fare such as a game show or a dance series. Khan, however, was more interested in dealing with the country's serious issues.
Khan and Shankar now admit that while they were enthusiastic about the series, they understood what a risk it was. "The traditional understanding of entertainment did not capture that kind of program" Shankar said. "It made you introspective, and when you look in the mirror [after watching the show], you will feel guilty. It didn't leave you laughing or on an emotional high."
Even still, their risk paid off. STAR estimates that approximately 517 million people--nearly 41 percent of the country--saw the show during its first season, and viewers have translated these ratings into action. After only one month in office, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Khan to discuss the issues raised on the show. The chief minister of Rajasthan created a fast-track court to prosecute doctors who commit female feticide. Health ministers in Maharashtra cracked down on illegal abortions. The nonprofit Snehalaya founded a shelter for women and girls and named it Satyamev Jayate Bhavan in the show's honor. The series has inspired people everywhere to take action in their communities and try to make a difference.
Satyamev Jayate wrapped its third season last weekend, and all of its episodes are available to stream with English subtitles at SatyamevJayate.in. To reach Zachary Pincus-Roth's full cover story "Can TV Save India?" visit LAWeekly.com.