He is a man who can make his mark even on a distant land, far away from home. Yes! We are talking about Indian film actor Aamir Khan, who was in Cannes, giving the MIP Megasession keynote at the ongoing MIPCOM 2014 in a packed Grand Auditorium about his landmark show Satyamev Jayate (SMJ). Indiantelevision.com founder, CEO and editor in chief Anil Wanvari is the Indian representative for all MIP markets.
So how did it all start? Said Khan, “It all started, becuase I was very inspired from my friend Satya (Satyajit Bhatkal, director of SMJ), who was my friend and class topper from school, was working in the social space. And I being an actor, was doing well in my career, but wasn’t doing much on this.” He further went on to say that as TV grew in India, this idea, of doing something on this front, grew bigger. “Star India CEO Uday (Shankar) offered me a game show, which I refused, he then asked me if I could do anything on TV. So I asked him if we could work on something that can bring some change. And he agreed,” he added. Khan and his small team comprising Satyajit worked together to create the show, which has gone down in the history of Indian television as one of the most popular shows. “Through the show, we try to understand the society. We try and put the issues to the people, be it child abuse, honour killing, rights and responsibilities etc,” he informed the audience which comprised of content creators from across the globe. All that we see on television wasn’t created in a day. “We took a year to work on research. The reason we researched was to find out if we had a show,” he said. In order to be sure, the team researched with four topics “and once we were confident, it didn’t matter to us if Star would take the show or not. We knew we could go ahead with it and put it on YouTube or anywhere,” he said adding that it took just five minutes for Shankar to approve the concept of the show. But, it was not all that easy. Khan then put three conditions in front of Shankar before agreeing to go ahead with Satyamev Jayate. One, he wanted the programme to be in multiple languages, since he wanted to reach out to people in their language. “I just didn’t want the main Star channel, but wanted the whole network, which would air the show at the same day and time.” The second condition was that in the states, where Star didn’t have a presence, the show was to be given to its competitor and the third was to give it to the terrestrial network Doordarshan. “Many villages in India do not have satellite TV even now and we wanted to reach those homes through Doordarshan,” he announced. But, Shankar, coming from a journalism background, understood where Khan was coming from. “I was talking of a show where I was not investing money but investing time. Star and my team is a part of the show which is made of love,” he said. Of the 1.2 billion population in India, 600 million people watch SMJ every week. “We didn’t know if people would be interested in a show like this. It was heartwarming to see how people connected emotionally. There is a huge vacuum of content on social issues and people want a show like SMJ,” he added. So how does Satyamev Jayate impact the society? “Well, we empower people by selecting an organisation each week so that one can help financially. What we also do is have partners, who help us on issues.” So far the show has been able to raise $ 45 million for the NGOs connected with it. Khan also mentioned how the political and administrative class of the country had also shown interest in the show. “Our show hits out on political and administrative class most of the times and so we didn’t know how they would respond, but I can tell you that there have been 9-10 examples where these people have come ahead and supported us.” Explaining the reasons for the show doing so well, Khan said, “There was a need and desire for things to change. India is on a cusp of change so a show like this helps them understand the issue and move towards change,” he said. “Sometimes when we research, we feel angry about certain things. But we have to approach people with love. We can’t attack them, if we do that, we will close the door for ourselves,” he added. Khan feels that the audiences in India today are looking for content that is engaging. “Even serious content can be made engaging.” One of the things that they do to catch the attention of the audience is keep the topic of the show a secret. “No one knows the topic, till the episode is aired. This attracts them to the show.” Khan also believes that serious issues can be presented in a way that people can relate to. Giving an example he said, “So when I talk about female foeticide, I do not start with the fact that women are being forced into abortion. That drives away audience, what I do is, I start by asking them, their most favourite person and then go on talking about their mother, my mother and then tell them the reality,” he narrated. Khan and his team is taking journalism and combining it with drama and storytelling. “My job as a storyteller is to be engaging,” he concluded.