Satyamev Jayate: Why TV, not truth, prevailed

by Anant Rangaswami  Jul 30, 2012 10:44 IST

#Aamir Khan   #InMyOpinion   #Satyameva Jayate  

As Satyamev Jayate went out with a whimper with the last episode, We the People, it’s an appropriate time to take stock of the programme.

For a show that promised to bring out the truth and to ensure truth prevailed, it’s the ultimate underachiever. Small droplets of truth shone through, but the droplets never threatened to become a fall, let alone a downpour.

It’s because TV , and not truth, prevailed.

It began with the very format of the show – which is a TV construct. The construct forced Aamir Khan and the production team to think in terms of TV slots – 13 and 26 episodes. So Team SJ had to look for 13 or 26 issues that they could discuss.

Why Satyamev Jayate is the ultimate underachiever?

The answer was 13 – and that seemed to be a forced number.

TV – and STAR TV, by the very fact that STAR Plus has been, for the past couple of years, the clear #1 Hindi general entertainment channel, knows the importance of targeting. Programs are identified and commissioned based on their perceived or anticipated appeal to the core target.

In the case of SJ, the targeting is abandoned. It clearly is a difficult ask; what are those issues which touch a chord among both metro and non-metro audiences? There aren’t too many – as the producers discovered and later struggled with. Given the construct of the show, the issues had to be life-impacting to the core audiences, and the content should resonate with them.

All didn’t. The ‘Think before you drink’ issue, for example, is hardly a pan-India problem. Dignity for all, while being thought-provoking, hardly made for entertaining television. Finally, the producers were scrambling for issues, the last episode, We the people, becoming demonstrative proof of their struggle.

There just was not enough meat for 13 episodes.

And then we came to the ‘research’. None of the shows showed great ‘research’; at best, the research was done by a set of people who are deft and efficient with Google. Great research as far as TV fiction programs are concerned (“quick, figure out what cars were running on Mumbai roads in the 60s”, “quick, try and get an image of a Maharashtrian housewife in the 50s”), but was woefully inadequate if the show was to be taken seriously.

Next, we come to the action and the follow up. A couple of meetings with politicians is not the action one expects of a movement – but is more than adequate for the marketing support for a TV show. That’s all it was, and that’s all SJ did. Some cursory attempts to make the show look like it was making an impact – calls to action to donate to cherry-picked NGOs – were marketing efforts.

To move out of TV and to become truly meaningful, the attention to NGOs should have been inclusive, rather than exclusive. For example, a woman being beaten by her husband an in-laws in Ranchi or Coimbatore because of her inability to pay dowry should have been helped with resources – and she wasn’t.

Yesterday, the Times of India reported that STAR was ‘keen’ to take this show forward.

Uday Shankar, CEO, Star India, was quoted as saying, in the Times of India report, that “the real impact of the show is in the awareness it has created and the lives it has changed.”

No, the awareness it has created is minimal; it has changed hardly any lives.

It could have, if it wasn’t constrained by the construct of a TV show.

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