For several months before Satyamev Jayate finally hit the TV screens, newspapers, news channels, Facebook, Twitter and suchlike had to do with a rather cumbersome name for it – ‘Aamir Khan’s new TV show’.
The show, like every other big-celeb show on TV, got a glitzy press conference and a launch. Aamir Khan smiled, posed, charmed reporters a bit more and sprung onto page ones and breaking news tickers.
Ideally, the show which finally hit the screens a few months later, would have disappeared from news page corners and prime time television discussions before its pilot episode aired. But it didn’t.
We didn’t have a name, we didn’t know what it was and like most Bollywood devoted Indian, never let Satyamev Jayate out of our minds. In between, there was the occasional snap of Khan location-hunting in a tabloid. Or a stylish promo which confirmed Aamir Khan’s not going to judge the dancing skills of TV stars. Or an interview in a glossy which recounted Amir’s nostalgia-connect with Doordarshan and morning family shows with stirring poetry. Satyamev Jayate, like a good Salman Khan film, was a hit even before it hit the screens. It was and still is a show hard-sold. Well sold, too.
So when Madhavankutty Pillai, at the risk of troll-backlash, asks in the Open magazine cover ‘Does he mean it?’ it’s a question you can’t dismiss in a hurry. He says, “There is no material being introduced in Satyamev Jayate. But the material is being tailored meticulously for the Indian middle class audience that Aamir Khan clearly understands.” There’s some truth in it. While you’re tempted to jump up in defence of Khan and ask when was the last time someone spoke against female foeticide, child sex abuse or truant docs on a TV show, just take one long look at the soap potpourri on national TV.
A Tulsi Virani married several times (Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi), some fictitious Rajasthani village head killing female fetuses and babies (Na Ana Is Des Laado) or an overtly-alpha pan-chewing UP police officer’s gay son (Maryada) rebelling against dad.
Unlike what we tend to think, the middle class TV audience has a healthy appetite for most things considered an aberration in the popular middle class moral handbook. And national TV knows just how to keep it comfortably stoked. So, Tulsi Virani was a basil-leaf worshipping wife devoted to her husband. Or each of her husbands. Baby-killing village head turns a new leaf with her twin granddaughters. And gay stud marries like a dutiful son and takes a bullet for his ‘wife’ and breaks up with boyfriend.
What Satyamev Jayate does, the soaps do in the disclaimer note that is beamed before they’re aired. Tells you that they intend to ‘question’, to probe its way up your consciousness, but ends up being a soggy, melodramatic tear-fest. Only, to us, tears look way better on Aamir than pan-caked soap heroines.
However, Khan is just slightly different. In the fact that while TV heroes end up being the most ridiculed by the intellectual, American television watching classes, Khan is the toast of their weekend brunches. The fact that he is Aamir Khan does a neat cover-up job of his slips. Like Pillai mentions in the story, not once does the child abuse show mention Harish Iyer is gay. Firstpost.com culture editor Sandip Roy noted how Khan conveniently averts talking about incest on the show about CSA. In the show on honour killings Khan finds it necessary to discuss love, life et al with a 80-year-old Kishwar Jahan whose young son was found murdered on the railway tracks in Kolkata.
On Beautiful People on CNBC TV-18, Khan tells host Anuradha Sengupta, “I do see myself as someone who is going through a change and that is what I can concern myself with.” This is what you would expect Aamir Khan to say. Only, you wonder how a scripted, neatly rehearsed TV show acts as change in a 50-year-old father-of-three’s life.
Chances are, you aren’t asking these questions. Chances are you aren’t even reminded of how Khan exhorted multiplex workers to sport his Ghajini hair-cut weeks before the film released. Because he has done it again. Pulled off a brilliant marketing master-plan.