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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Aamir Khan's Satyamev Jayate

So I finally got to watch the first episode of Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate just now. Yes, five days too late but better late than never. And now that I’ve seen it, I find myself competent to comment about it firsthand and not form an opinion based on others’ opinion of it.

It would be an understatement to say that I had seen a lot of Twitter buzz about the programme. There were lots and lots of tweets - during the programme, after the programme, people posting links of articles written right after the programme.

Most of this buzz was positive, ranging from mild enthusiasm to wild ecstasy. Many even said they finally found a reason to watch TV. A lot of the positive vibes came because people seemed to like the format and the way the whole programme was constructed.

It did seem to be extremely well-constructed. Right from the introduction of the programme and its goal, to the specific issue it was discussing, there seemed to be a sense of purpose about it.

This was not just sensationalism or random “breaking news”. This seemed to be about raising a serious issue in all its seriousness, supporting it with first-hand accounts, further supporting it with research and facts.

And, as if to drive home further the magnitude of the issue, the apathy and complicity of  the administration was also exposed.  The shocking story of doctors caught on camera discussing how to get rid of the foetus is one side of the story, the equally shocking other side is that no action has been taken against even one of these doctors (and there are 140 of them). And this, inspite of promises made by the Prime Minister of the country. And for good measure, the President too.

Every story tugged at one’s heart strings, every aspect of the programme either confirmed a suspicion or raised awareness. Yes, female foeticide is not just something that poor, uneducated people in villages do, it happens also amongst the urban, well-to-do, educated. Everybody who thinks a girl child is a curse – and this cuts across all classes of society.

Very importantly, the programme did not just stop at raising an issue. Yes, that in itself has value but it went further and tried to find solutions to the problem.  

The letter to the Rajasthan Chief Minister asking for the setting up of a Fast Track process in the cases against the doctors may appear symbolic but it could go far beyond just symbolism.  It could send out a message to indifferent and corrupt administrations across the country that a vehicle to demand change is being put in place – by the people the administration is responsible to. And this is being done in not just a peaceful manner but within the legal and democratic framework of the country.

Yes, I know I am jumping the gun here, this is just ONE letter to ONE administration – but I’d like to think this could be the start of something bigger, that this could set a chain of thought in process. This is not extra-constitutional (as far as I know) – it is just channeling of people power to demand action and change.  We all know that as individuals we feel extremely helpless in Indian society (unless you have money and/or influence, you are a nobody), but as a collective force, we may be able to bring about change. And that’s what this programme seemed to try to reinforce.

Anyway it’s very very early days yet – and it’s unfair to build such expectations from, what is essentially just a TV programme -  so I will try to keep myself grounded. And just say that at the very least, it seems to help raise awareness about an issue in a non-sensationalising and hard-hitting style. And as many have said, if this helps to save one more foetus, it would have already done good.

Fortunately I have a rather mixed bunch that I follow on Twitter, and so on most discussion items I get more than one side to the story. Just the way I like it.

I found a fair amount of criticism about the programme too. Most of the criticism could be bracketed under the following categories:

1. Yeah, so suddenly NOW we realize that we have a female foeticide issue in the country? We needed Aamir Khan to tell us that? 

2. Yeah, so you think just because Aamir Khan says this, the problem is going to get solved? How much such talk have we heard in the past and how many of those problems have been solved?

3. What? Aamir Khan’s getting 3 crore per episode (or whatever it is)?  For telling us our problems. Man, what suckers we are!

4. This female foeticide issue is an easy one for Aamir to take up. Let’s see him take up a more grey issue.

5. Star Plus may have hit a bonanza here but this is just showbiz, so let’s see it for what it is. And corporates need people’s goodwill so they will obviously align themselves with this sort of “social message” agenda.

I understand where each of these arguments is coming from - and will try to take them up one by one.

1. Yes, that female foeticide happens is not necessarily a revelation that is being brought to us only by this programme.  But I'm sure there are many who, even if they are aware it happens, must have been shocked by the numbers. And the research about it being an urban malaise too.

So let’s give the programme at least SOME credit for raising awareness – not everybody is as aware as the “intelligentsia” in this country. And yes, when Aamir Khan says it, it is more likely to be heard than just any Tom, Dick and Harry. That's the perk a celebrity has and a common man does not.

2. We, as a people, have been through (and are going through everyday) so much of credibility loss amongst institutions in the country that we’ve become a skeptical lot. We don’t trust anything or anybody anymore – not the government, not the media, not the corporates, not our celebrities.   We believe everybody has a hidden agenda. It is sad, but that is how it is. When all around you, you hear stories of scams, paid media, crony capitalism, a failed justice system  and what-have-you, you can be excused for being cynical.

I would just say, let’s for one moment put all our cynicism aside and give this programme a chance. Let’s not rubbish it before it’s even got a chance to develop roots. What’s the worst that can happen? That it becomes another farce of a programme and nothing comes out of it? Well, I sincerely hope it doesn’t go that way but if it does, surely that’s not the worst thing to happen to a TV programme.  I, for one, would still rather see this than most other stuff dished out nowadays on TV.

3. For those who talk about how much Aamir charges per episode, I have only this to say - what does it really matter? It is between him and the TV channel. It is not really our business. If we don’t like the programme, we can just switch off or switch to another channel.

4. As for those suggesting Aamir’s picked an easy issue this time, why not wait before drawing out those daggers? It’s way too early for them – let him first slip up on future issues before you thrust that dagger in. Ever heard of “benefit of doubt”?

5. And, finally, if Star Plus has hit a bonanza, so what? It’s the job of a channel to serve content to the public, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  If this time it has worked – and just happens to be related to spreading social awareness amongst the public – surely that’s not a bad thing? I can think of programmes with far more damaging content that have been hugely successful commercially.

And if corporates support a social message initiative, hoping to garner public goodwill, so what? Surely there are worse ways for them to spend their money? 

All in all, I’m in the pro-SMJ camp at the moment. And those who know me, know that I am myself very cynical of a lot of things happening in India right now. But I’m not going to let my cynicism get the better of me on this one. Not for now at least.

So brushing aside cynics, I can only think that the only other constituency that would be against this SMJ initiative would be those with vested interests. Otherwise I can’t see people opposing this as such.

Anyway, let’s just hope there are concrete results to show on the ground for the activist steps at the end of the first episode. That will give a huge amount of credibility to the programme. I hope there will be mention of follow-up results of previous episodes, in future episodes.

One more thing. This programme needs to be localised, it needs to be done in regional languages because of the reach of regional TV. A lot of the Indian population watches only regional TV.

Looking forward to the next one. Yes, maybe finally, there IS a reason to switch on that TV.

P.S: Here's the video of the programme - episode 1 - for those who have not seen it yet, or would like to see it again.


Tuesday, May 01, 2012

My identity

Define me not by land or faith
Or by what trade I ply

No country or town
No religion or faith
No trade or job
None I call my own

They’re all part of me
Yet none vests in me
They’ve all shaped me
Yet none defines me

The world loves groups,
Categories and classes
Works for most guys,
Is lapped up by the masses

I seek no identity
I wish for none
I’ll go without fuss
When my job’s done

But whence I come
And where I go
No man-made marks there
For me to show.