There is a real TV world-wide phenomenon, currently. Bollywood actor Aamir Khan is producing and presenting a talk show on TV. But it is not just a talk show, it is a programme which deals with sensitive issues in the Indian society. It is called: Satyamev Jayate.
Satyamev Jayate, a meaningful title:
Satyamev Jayate means « The Truth only triumphs ». It is India’s motto that you can read on India’s national emblem. This emblem mainly represents four lions back to back and the Ashoka Chakra at the base. This chakra is familiar to you because it is drawn on the Indian flag. The original sculpture was at the top of a pillar in Sarnath (near Varanasi); it is now in Sarnath museum but you can see this emblem everywhere especially on Indian currency.
Consequently, it is easy to understand how difficult it must have been to make this excerpt of a matra the title of a TV show. Satyamev Jayate motto belongs to India like a kind of intellectual property which cannot be used for business. (Imagine if someone gave the name « Liberté Egalité Fraternité » or « God Save the Queen » to a sportshoe brandmark or a sort of lowfat butter!)
So, Aamir Khan and his team decided to borrow the motto from India; this TV show represents, talks about and belongs to the Indian people so, this choice was considered as an evidence.
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A sensationalist TV show?
The format of this show is quite simple. It lasts for one hour but the timing has a good ryhtm and there is no tedious part. On the set; a large sofa, a screen at the back, a small audience around. People come and simply tell their story, make you cry, but always keep their dignity. There are very short films, -maybe too short-, to introduce the guests. Then, people who daily struggle against those problems come and explain what they do to make things improve and the obstacles they meet. At the end of the show, Aamir Khan sums up the situation and tries to find solutions, asking the viewers to support him by signing petitions or making phone calls.
But this apparently simple series of talk shows has been prepared like a new TV drama! During the shooting the secret about the contents of the programme has been kept carefully. Songs have been written, one song for each of the 16 episodes; these songs are broadcast on TV, on the Web and even in cinema theatres as if it was the soundtrack of a new blockbuster. Many sponsors like Coca-Cola have joined the project, the amount of money used to promote this talk show has been more tremendous than ever!
As far as the social issues are concerned some critics could say they are a bit too sensationalist, too easy and that they call pity. But this criticism turns out to be rather limited considering the importance of these topics in a country like India. Indeed, subjects like dowry, child abuse or honour killings are real issues which directly or indirectly touch the whole Indian society. They have nothing to do with some talk shows we can sometime watch on French TV like « I have slept with my brother » or « I left my husband for my son-in-law »!
A charismatic leader:
Other more sceptical journalists considered that as obstinate and famous the actor can be, this is not Aamir Khan who will change the world and make people better. I beg to differ a little. I think it is a good thing that a Bollywood star involve himself in that kind of projects. It is terrible to say that but nowadays people tend to trust superstars more than brilliant scientists. Great causes always need a charismatic leader to draw people’s attention like Tibet has Dalai Lama or the Black Americans had Martin Luther King, if I can allow myself this daring comparison! Anyway, doing nothing is not really effective either!
The viewers themselves quickly realised that Khan was not just a glamourous character; he is sincere and very motivated in his search for the truth. He travels through the country; he uses surveys and investigation results, he puts a lot in that job, he laughs, he cries. He is simple, he is himself, he is no longer a Bollywood star.
For all these reasons, Satyamev Jayate is one of the most successful programmes ever telecast. It is shown in more than 100 countries, on two different channels; it is shot in Hindi but dubbed in different Indian languages so that everybody in India can understand. Every-one is concerned about the issues treated. Even though one usually says that India can’t be considered as ONE, it seems that the whole country is totally united when Satyamev Jayate is on.
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An Indian debate for the Indians and by the Indians:
It is always very delicate for foreigners to talk to Indians about India’s problems. Indians are very sensitive about issues like corruption, dowry, education, sanitation, especially when they are raised by foreigners like me. Imagine you are visiting someone, it is a bit tactless to say to your host: « Well, you should do something about your ceiling! It is covered with damp patches!» Of course, it is the same for every country, but as an India lover, I feel sometimes a bit frustrated not to be allowed to exchange opinions and feelings about this country I am so interested in.
So, I was very happy when I discovered this series of TV shows in which Aamir Khan and his guests come to tell their stories and run through things. It enables me to get more information about serious but sensitive issues and I feel less guilty.
But the success of this programme proves that I am not the only one to be satisfied with it! When I surf the web, I realise how Indian people or people of Indian origin need to talk about these subjects and how they are proud of their representative Aamir Khan. This Bollywood actor has become a real Indian hero. Lots of net surfer gets into discussions on forums or Facebook groups and many of them want to do something to help the situation improve.
Of course, this show has its opponents too. The Indian Medical Association, for instance, accused Aamir Khan of diffamation after the episode dealing with medical malpractices and asked him for apology, which the actor refused.
How far will Aamir Khan go?
The question I ask now is: Will Aamir Khan dare to deal with even more controversial subjects? Among the 90,000 comments left on Satyamev Jayate web site, a man has asked for a show about caste-based reservation in the Indian education system which is a really controversial topic today. If corruption, girl foeticide or illiteracy are subjects that most of people agree to consider as harmful, what about topics that bring about more debates and devides people?
The episode I have decided to show you is about the problem of Female Foeticide.
People do not want to have baby girls for two main reasons:
Having a girl is a financial burden. It is « like watering your neighbours’ garden ». When your daughter gets married, on one hand, the parents have to pay a dowry to the groom’s family, on the other hand, the daughter leaves her own family to go to her husband’s, which means that she will not be alble to take care of her parents when they are older. I think the third reason might be a kind of unexplained traditional and social obsession helped for the worst by ultrasound.
I will not comment on this episode too much because it is very pleasant to watch though very sad. It is well-made and the explanations are simple so that everybody from every social class can understand it. I also like the way Aamir Khan talks to the viewers and to the guests, his honesty and his sobriety. The introduction on the beach is really moving without being ridiculous nor overacted.
This issue was rather familiar to me as I had heard and read a lot about Indian girls’ doom. But the stories told made me thrill all the same and I was very impressed by the courage of these women who came on the set without excessive pathos and without sunglasses. Some had been forced to have an abortion by their in-laws, others had been beaten by their husband until miscarriage. I remember this short candid camera report where a female doctor agrees to carry out an abortion and says to the mother: « Ok, she will be born alive but she won’t survive. You can bury her behind… »
Strangely enough, most of the people who get rid off female foetuses are wealthy and well-educated like professors, doctors, since they have access to the ultra sound and have the money to achieve the aim.
Despite all this sadness, I laughed at this satellite connexion between the set and a little village in Rajasthan where lots of men cannot find a wife because there is a girl shortage. One of village people says: « Aamir, why don’t you ask Salman to join us! He has difficulties finding a woman too! He could be our captain! » Aamir Khan laughs and answers « Yes, but Salman has another kind of problem! He’s got too many girls around him so he can’t make a choice. » I don’t know if this joke had been prepared, but I found it funny and so representative of the differences between people’s lives.
If you want to watch more episodes, go to Youtube and specify “English” or “English subtitles”. The videos don’t work on the official website or maybe it is only on my computer.