I have not yet seen an episode of Satyameva Jayathe, but am not surprised at the wave of good words spreading around about the show. As is common with anything that succeeds, the second fastest way to get famous, is to lash out/criticise something that is already/just famous. So you have the dozen-odd standard detractors, who take it upon themselves to explain why the show sucks, etc. So here’s my attempt to piggyback on something famous just for the heck of it.
If you look at the various players on this stage, they each have their motives (or atleast most do). Let us take a look at some of them:
Anyone with money and interest in the arts, is free to pursue their calling, and mint money anyway they can. I fail to understand why someone would have a problem with Aamir Khan using his money, to produce and star in a series that he believes in. Of course, he is not running a charity, it is a business, not an agony aunt column in a monthly magazine, to entertain readers for free with ridiculous answers to even more ridiculous questions probably typed by the agony aunt’s secretary, who will naturally run out of steam after month upon month of inventing questions.
If Aamir Khan decides the best way to spend his buck is to milk a few tears on/off the screen, then that’s his prerogative, and his alone. The fact that the tears are milked towards issues of national interest, human interest, etc. are an added bonus that help solidify his revenue model. It ensures that the viewers are locked-in through a nice combination of star value, burning issues, and the onion-competing words without the grand sets of saas-bahu operas (i guess they are called soap because the actors need to wash their mouth with soap, given the way they speak), an opportunity to assuage people’s worthlessness to society by shedding a few tears, etc.
If anything, he needs to be commended for continuously extending his Midas streak, by showing an uncanny understanding of how to tap into a market’s psyche.
This is the group of people whose role Aamir usurped since they were busy making 3D animated re-enactments of a juicy crime, or trying to one-up each other to release blurred/mosaic-art versions of smartphone porn, or trying to compete in the Most Inane Panel Discussion Show award by humouring washed-out sportspersons, if an existing player was a fitting compatriot for their Old Boys club or not, or maybe trying to get exclusive footage of the towel stand in the maternity ward of a hospital, so that they could say these towels were going to be used post-delivery, and only their channel had this exclusive ‘of a white towel’.
So they do the job they now best do, take someone’s who makes a show about burning national issues (which they were supposed to be doing, btw) and charge to promote it, and then make more money on the spinoff programs that they can concoct, like [you guessed it right] a panel discussion on female foeticide by village-renown experts on the subject, and of course, inviting the audience to spam a scrolling bar, with SMS opinions for a premium fee. If someone is doing your job, the best way to look good, is to make him look good, and say you stand behind him 100%, and you espouse whatever he supports, and you despise whatever he condemns. That way, you can make it look like you are doing a fantastic job, and getting celebrity value involved into your job.
This is the best role to play, because it involves the least risk for the greatest reward. Pay the producer some amount, wait for him to shoot an episode, wait for people to cry about some sad thing in their lives on air, wait for the media to go all-out promoting those tears through finely edited trailers and teasers, wait for some pathetic loser to get so moved by the episode, they send you a wonderful premium SMS ranging from Rs. 2-5, stating how repulsed they are that such things go on in their own country.
There is so much money to be made. Coffee mugs, t-shirts with the series name, meet the victim, meet the star, meet the rapist, get autographed merchandise, all by sending one simple SMS. Making money has never been more easier, what with people dying to text TV channels with their valuable opinions instead of relatives with a kind word, or a friend with a thanks.
This is a role you wouldn’t want to be caught dead in, the most worthless among roles, and also the cash-cow that fuels the series engine, and pays the bills of every other player onstage. Their work is to sit on the couch, popcorn bucket ready for a lazy Sunday morning telecast of a program to spend quality family time with everyone staring at an idiot box, shed copious tears, get overwhelmed enough to send out a premium SMS to save the girl child, or boy panda. There are so many diverse walk-on parts, that tracking all the players in this category is a mind-boggling exercise, there are millions of them simply sitting dumbstruck by what they’ve seen, and other millions busy texting to voice their complete premium SMS support for the cause, and against the evil. They really believe that if Airtel or whoever gets 1 crore SMS, all the ultrasound machines will automatically get blurred around the gender and show important vital stats while discreetly draping the gender behind a modesty charm.
It is even harder to understand, their distant cousins, who do re-enactments of Sachin’s visa ad, by re-tweeting, facebook-ing, and gplus-ing “I’ve sent out a premium SMS, now you go send one” or worse still, “if enough people Like my status, the Govt. has agreed to jail all erring doctors, and Airtel has agreed to throw a 50-paise coin on the graves of unborn girls”.
It makes me wonder if people understand what they are even saying. To call a show fantastic/great/effective, it depends what parameter you use to measure that greatness/effectiveness. From a production/distribution standpoint, it is a roaring success. Never before has one production been syndicated simultaneously across so many languages, never before has a series where the audience has no chance to make any money brought so much money for all the middlemen and opportunists milking the moment for all it is worth and then some more. Millions of people who shooed away mothers begging with infants (live real infants) in their bosoms without so much as giving a Rupee, and with a bonus look of disgust, spent 2-5 Rupees of their own initiative by reading a rapidly scrolling SMS number, to text away the money to a cash-rich telecom company because they have a tie-up with a producer who is letting you hear the horrors being perpetrated on unborn infants. Yeah, go ahead, send Airtel 3 Rupees more to add to their quarterly earnings report, instead of giving 3 begging mothers 1 Rupee each for their starving infants.
If a show really has an impact on an audience, it doesn’t make them feel sad, it makes them feel angry. The difference in feeling sad, and feeling angry, is what those emotions make you do. Sorrow, makes you cry for a few minutes, post a frownie on Facebook, and maybe SMS some money to a cash-overloaded company. Angry makes you take to the streets, demand action, hold the Govt. to its expected standard of accountability, and if necessary bring down the Govt. if they fail to be accountable to you. How is that for starters? Sorrow makes you sink into yourself, and wait for anyone consoling you to tap into you vulnerability, and encash it. Anger makes you lash you at what you perceive to be the cause for the anger, and maybe makes those who are responsible/irresponsible pay for it. Contrast a crore people forming a human chain to express their solidarity with Anna’s movement, and protesting countrywide, until the Govt. backpedalled and appeared to incorporate the people’s version of an anti-corruption bill with a crore SMSes being sent from the comfort of a sofa to tell Airtel they were in for a lot more money, if Aamir could make them cry more in the next episode. That is anger vs. sorrow.
Journalism (which this series is not, and does not pretend to be) reaches its nadir, when it can influence popular opinion on sensitive issues to such an extent that it turns the reader towards activism for the subject, instead of shedding a tear on the newspaper and turning to the next page. That is the true power, the potent power of words, to manipulate a reader/viewer into action, of the action kind, and not the typing kind.
Sadly though, not everything can be resolved on the streets. When a Govt. is at fault, you can get on to the streets, disrupt everyone’s else lives until the Govt. caves in, or orders the police to whack your ass blue. But foeticide and child abuse are not matters that the Govt. can legislate/police into the republic. It is an individual matter, that the Govt. cannot poke their nose into, even if they wanted to. The Govt. can force people of different castes to mingle in a classroom, by forcing a legislation onto them, and it barely works, but nevertheless is somewhat effective because of economies of scale. If 100 crore people are divided along 100 broad caste lines, each caste line has 1 crore people in common. Targeting them with schemes/penalties will help incentivise/disincentivise the entire group to a great extent.
But abortions/paedophilia is not an industrial scale activity in terms of cohesiveness. It cuts across all lines of caste, religion, gender. How do you magically identify individuals who are planning to get a gender-based abortion? How do you identify in which room of whose house, a child is being abused? How do you force parents/relatives to not abuse their children by threat of litigation? How do you prove an individual’s right to an abortion is not being abused for gender/caste? This is not something that people can fight on the street, or on a social network. It is something that needs to be fought in every home, by every family member. Which brings us to the next player on stage, the Victim.
I have read hundreds of tweets/posts that appreciate the courage of those who were brave enough to on national television to share their harrowing experiences with complete strangers. For them it helps in some ways as a means of closure. Expression is one of the most effective ways of unburdening yourself of pent up repressive/regressive emotions. When traumatic experiences are forcibly suppressed into the recesses of the mind, they haunt people until they get it out of their system. So, sharing an experience like ‘my husband forced me to abort a female foetus’ or ‘my uncle touched me inappropriately’ must have definitely helped them get decades worth of shame and guilt off their mind, partially atleast.
However, what it does not do, is fix the issue. Performing a sting operation, might take down a corrupt MP, but it doesn’t stop corruption, because what a sting operation proves is that X was indulging in a particular activity. It brings the spotlight on X, and also on the activity for a few days, a month at the most, and then fades away onto something else. The spotlight, is exactly what it says it is, an avenue to focus attention on an issue. The spotlight cannot do the dance, fights, dialogues, and item numbers, it can only shed light. It is a medium to create awareness on a dark recess where undesirable activities have been going on. By itself, it is useless. Making a show that highlight barbarian, inhuman, psychopathic tendencies in everybody’s homes, is just that, a spotlight. It shows you what is going on, but a show cannot do your actions/reactions for you. It can only present the facts, of course tilted favourably/unfavourbly towards one side or the other.
While sharing/confessing your trauma on television might you feel better/less depressed, it does not set right the scales of justice.You go on TV, say you had to lose your child, and you feel hurt beyond words, and are devastated, etc, but what happened to your husband? Is he in jail? Did you divorce him? Did you try punishing him? The law may not have a remedy for quasi-voluntary abortions, but you do. Do you pretend-smile and make breakfast for the man who made you snuff out the life that you painfully carried in your womb? National outrage at your household happenings can make people send an SMS, but that is about all that they can/will do. They have their own household to take care of. And of course, a movie to go to in the evening, and forget your name, or the show. The show name they will probably remember since they need to see some new tragic faces with new horrible stories, along with some of that latest noodles-soup combo on the side, of course. Did you approach the Govt./police saying you were coerced into an abortion. Probably not. Did the Govt./police (read some headlines, “Govt cracks down on ultrasound scanner in Rajasthan”) that appears to be bothered, now that everyone has made them the favourite punching bag for any and all issues, approach you after seeing the show, to arrest your husband? Quite unlikely.
Guess what is the reason? Choice. You made a choice, or maybe had no choice. That your lifestyle, your position in society, your comfortable/miserable existence in the condition you were, was far more important, maintaining the status quo with your in-laws and relatives, was more important, than trying to seek justice, which you might or might not get for a voiceless soul, whose heart isn’t beating yet. It is neither a good choice or a bad choice, nor an oxymoron like ‘only choice’. it is just a decision, and like every decision it has its consequences. You weighed the consequences of both the alternatives, and decided that your other children needed you, or that you couldn’t fend for yourself later, or whatever, and decided that it was simpler to squelch a voiceless voice, and be guaranteed the balance at your home was not upset, and that only you were upset by nightmares, instead of risking upsetting everything and everyone, so that you could give voice to a voiceless voice, and maybe or maybe not get justice for that cause. You chose certainty over possibility, and are forced to live out the consequences of that choice. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise, that you are a victim, and society is the villain, or your husband/in-laws etc.
Same goes for those who chose to keep quiet about their abuse as a child. By keeping quiet, they mere making a choice, albeit, a childish immature one maybe, but a choice nevertheless, choosing certainty over uncertainty. Keeping quiet afforded the certainty that everything at home would remain the same, nobody would be jailed/punished, and all you had to do was put up with for as much time as you could, try to bury the shame/guilt/trauma and hope everything would be sunny and bright if you just closed your eyes for now, even if it meant you could never properly close your eyes at night. You weighed the uncertainty as well, what if if broke up the family, and you never could see your lecherous dad again? what if even worse, nobody believed you, and that left you with a very angry and vengeful perpetrator, intent upon inflicting more pain upon you in the cozy confines of your own home? You weighed these two choices, and chose certainty. This for all probable purposes, let these psychos roam around fondling many more kinds because you wanted your home to be appear nice and beautiful on the surface. You might have gotten whatever closure you got by seeming a victim and being a guest in a celebrity hosted Oprah-clone, but what closure does it give to those who are still being abused by the psycho, or might have been abused while you waited decades for the spotlight to fall on your trauma. That makes you an accomplice after the fact, and also makes you liable for harbouring a repeat child offender.
Other miscellaneous players:
Am too tired to type about the other players like the Govt., activists, etc. Let someone have some respite.
Overall, I was just trying to say, Aamir is doing his bit, by making money off doing someone else’s job (the media’s). The media are getting their job done by someone else, and charging for showing-off that work and minting money by generating buzz and encashing that buzz through increased discussion from people who otherwise did not pay attention when they actually ran news around the very same issues that has the nation suddenly off their couch because Aamir Khan was covering these issues already covered. The telecom companies are riding the sympathy wave like the skilled surfers that they are, and making the most of every crest and fall in emotions. The victims have an opportunity to tell their story in a studio, and feel they have done their bit towards the cause. And of course the audience, who are dumb enough to listen to one person’s story and give away money to a completely unrelated person, and proudly tweet and repost that stupidity. Well, whatever works for people.
So having yapped so much and rampaged around on my moral high horse, what did i do about all this? Nothing. Sometimes, it is better to do nothing, and be true to doing nothing, than to be hypocritical and swing at windmills and claim you slayed a dragon called female foeticide or child abuse by swinging at a windmill.