Press Release

Satyamev Jayate: Well done! Don’t take your eyes off the ball.

30 July 2012

Three months back, sitting with a borrowed iPad a few metres from the White Nile in Juba, I wrote on a show aiming to flow against the current.
The Nile, as we know flows from south to north. Having experienced the merciless onslaught of weekly rating numbers, I had hoped that Satyameva Jayate (SMJ) would ride the tiger too. But knowing a bit about rating meters, I harboured my doubts whether moolah will drops with “responsible TRPs”, the time-tested wisdom being that it’s impossible to sustain audiences week on week, without selling your soul.
But I had put my money on Aamir Khan, the lead, and Uday Shankar, the boss of Star Network, for putting their lot with social problems rather than bump and grind or inane quizzes.
Confession: I didn’t know what might happen to a show that went up on nearly a dozen channels simultaneously including Doordarshan.
Writing as I was in Clooney Country, where the Hollywood actor’s satellite has become the world’s primary source to check Khartoum’s war atrocities, I set the bar for Aamir at a scale beyond one SMJ. But I was happy for him and Uday that they had the balls to shame the notoriously play-safe media planning folks to foot their bill.
Today, it’s time to wind down. The jury is out on whether or not SMJ lived up to its promise. My only interest in writing this is to say, “Well done! But don’t take your eyes off the ball. Keep at it!”
I’m friends with enough naysayers who think that SMJ was a mere tearjerker. That Aamir and his producers merely skimmed the surface and steered clear of a lasting solution to anything. There are folks who have FB’d on private messaging or tweeted as DM to slip in the fact that money spent by Star and the sponsors hasn’t been recouped. Much worse, if anyone has gained, it isn’t even Star, and its group of ideators; but Aamir, who has become the nation’s 21st-century Ram Mohun Roy, not to mention a cocktail of DNAs of BR Ambedkar, Vinoba Bhave and Baba Amte, men who devoted a lifetime towards the emancipation of women, and the eradication of exploitation and injustice, but don’t mean a damn to today’s twitterati.
All the naysayers are right! Yes, 90 minutes of television for 12 social problems didn’t turn the wolves of dowry into sheep. Nor did butchers wearing doctor’s clothes turn into chartered members of the Sisters of Charity. Killers throttling the little girl child of India kept finding support of the police and the local netas. Not everyone stopped sniggering at a dalit the moment she turned her back.
But for their courage to look at these problems in the eye, shouldn’t we give our “shabash”, howsoever grudging, to Teams Aamir and Uday? Remember, they didn’t find backers from the moon! These were the companies (the bucks are spent through an independent tribe called media planners!) who moan and groan about bad content, but their bucks have a way only to back sleaze like Bigg Boss and Sunny Leone.
Instead, should we stand with those who didn’t even try? How about acknowledging that whiff of light at the end of a dreary tunnel of voyeurism and occult that passes off as Indian television? But bitch we do over whether Aamir became the Knight in the Shining Armour, and that Uday was left to handle the bills!
To me it’s nice if even a hundred folks started retuning their Sunday body clocks (Star PR wants us to believe that the show touched one in every two Indians on cable TV, I personally think TAM numbers extrapolate only what auto-rickshaw wallahs watch!). It’s nice even if a few of these couch potatoes put their thumbs together on twitter in solidarity for Cindrella Prakash, a victim of child abuse. Far from perfect! But marriage proposals on mass TV need to be celebrated. [I’ve experienced them on news TV, but TAM claims that share of news isn’t even in double digits.]
Else the sharks of crappy TV will strike back washing away whatever little gain has been made in the show.
Let me lace on record something that can’t really be verified. Its import is a salutary one. One hears that Aamir put on hold Rs 160 crore worth of advertisements and endorsements to retain the authenticity of SMJ. That might be a spin doctor at work, but it’s a fact that for these three months Aamir hasn’t been shaking a leg for, say, Coke, while talking of clean water for the poor. If Aamir has indeed lost so much of money, albeit notional, why not hope his social worth will compensate him in years to come? That’s the only way other stars will be forced to grow up.
As for Star, SMJ is a coming of age in India. As a firang network, it has managed to mass-broadcast such a stark picture of social evils, without anyone yelling, “Hey goras! Back off.” Plus, Star needed to rebuild its social contract away from the scandals surrounding the global empire of Rupert Murdoch.
SMJ positioned it closer to what Uday might have set out to do, closer to the milch cow called Bharat Mata.
A final point on the victory lap being created by Star. These, in my humble opinion, are a mistake. They reek of news television, from where I hear SMJ actually traces its birth. This “Star TV ka asar…Zee TV par iss khabar ke baad, sarkar sahmi…,” is a load of crap. When real “impact” happens, you don’t need to say it. Aamir and Uday would do well to eschew this hackneyed plot. Your trumpeters aren’t dead, are they?
Also, beware, this is a game where you’re as good as your last show. May be Colors, Zee or Sony (and Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan) still have it in them to re-think through their social contract.
Paradoxical as it may sound, the taste (and test) of SMJ lies in the sequel. If there is one, albeit after a gap and after ironing the wrinkles, we’ll know what stuff Aamir and Uday are really made off. Until then, is it fair to say: “Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost!”
While on the long haul, the original untrimmed version of verse 3.1.6 of the Mundaka Upanishad might help our protagonists and their bête noires:
Satyamevajayatenan ta satyenapanthavitatodevayana yenakramanty ayohyaptakama yatra tat
Satyasyaparama nidhanam

Truth alone triumphs; not falsehood. Through truth the divine path is spread out by which the sages whose desires have been completely fulfilled, reach where that supreme treasure of Truth resides.

Source: Governance Now?

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