Note to Tina Brown: Aamir Khan is cool, but how about a real activist for Women of World summit?
Khan is clearly a smart, thoughtful man who thinks a lot about how he wants to fashion his life beyond the next blockbuster.
It’s amazing sometimes to think that Aamir Khan even has the time to make films these days. Being India’s Conscience must be more than full time work.
There are reports that he will judge the grand finale of the all vegetarian MasterChef India 4. And because he’s a man who is serious about everything he does and always goes above and beyond the requirements of the role, Aamir Khan has just turned vegan as well. Or did the vegan come first and the MasterChef later? Or do either have anything to do with his upcoming role as a vegetarian in Dangal?
It does not matter.
When you are as busy as Aamir Khan is saving the world the chronology of such things is irrelevant. The other day he was offering his two bits on the AIB roast. He admits he has not seen it but that does not stop him from gently wagging his finger at those naughty AIB-wallahs and offering up a very reasonable, sensible, balanced, and rather humourless homily about responsibility, freedom of expression, violence of words and appeals to good sense.
Khan is clearly a smart, thoughtful man who thinks a lot about how he wants to fashion his life beyond the next blockbuster. He is not someone who is going to fade away from the screen as he ages. He is carefully creating a whole new persona for himself – not just as thinking man’s actor but as the Thinking Man himself.
And who are we to begrudge him that? Especially in an industry where the stars are prone to permanently having a foot in the mouth or tweet an endless stream of inanities, Khan is a superstar with a difference. And more power to him.
But it still feels a little strange to see his name as one of the headliners at Tina Brown’s Sixth Annual Women in the World summit where the “the struggles and triumphs of women and girls around the globe come to life.”
Bringing the struggles and triumphs of Indian women to life will be Aamir Khan – “champion of women” and as the copy gushes “India’s number one movie star on his mission to illuminate the country’s taboo topics through his wildly popular television show, watched by more than half a billion people.”
Another Khan or two might take exception to that “number one” ranking. And “wildly popular” might be a bit of hyperbole when it comes to Satyamev Jayate. According to the Business Standard its third leg launched in October 2014 with a viewership of 4.9 million and then dwindled to 2.1 million by its third week. Of course it’s a remarkable testimony to Khan’s star power that a show about topics like incest or homosexuality even draws a million viewers.
However it’s still a little peculiar when a high-powered summit like the Women in the World finds no greater champion of women in India than Khan. Khan is surely someone who cares about these issues. But in a country like India there are countless others, especially women, who have devoted their lives to those same issues against far greater odds. Ela Bhatt, Bhanwari Devi, Mahasweta Devi, Ruchira Gupta to name just a few. They have done it on the ground, at great risk to their lives sometimes and that should count for more than advocacy from the comfort of a television studio.
This is not Khan’s fault as much as it is the organizers who are seduced by the glamour of stardom to the point of ignoring those who do the actual heavy lifting. Full points to Khan for amplifying their struggle but it’s tragic if their blood, sweat and tears find no place on the programme of Women in the World thanks to a handsome movie star’s propensity to shed that perfect tear on what is, in the end, a tightly choreographed programme.
Aamir Khan has the penchant for saying the right thing and doing the right thing. He no doubt will give a moving presentation and he will surely acknowledge the work of many activists some of whom he is familiar with thanks to his programme. But he is ultimately the host of a television show. And it would have been more fitting if that show had been a portal for Tina Brown and Co. to find the real activists who try to make change possible in India.
Brown is nothing if not as Luisita Lopez Torregrosa puts it in the Washington Post a lavish spender intent on producing “the perfect alchemy mixing glamour and razzle-dazzle (Angelina Jolie! Meryl Streep! Pussy Riot!) with the gravitas of world figures like Hilary Clinton (who has launched her own women’s empowerment initiative) and Christine Lagarde and Samantha Power, and the courage of unheralded activists.” But while the program might have room for a Hollywood star AND a researcher from some US university AND a remarkable "unheralded" young activist, there’s usually only one India slot or one Africa slot. And it’s a pity when the organizers are bedazzled by star power while filling that slot.
The Women in the World summit is not scheduled till April. Perhaps someone else will join the programme or Aamir Khan will bring an activist with him. At a time when the media in the west is abuzz with stories about gang rape in India and the beleaguered India's Daughter it would be wonderful for the world to meet someone who is really an activist for change, and has the scars to show for it, as opposed to someone who gets made up to play one on TV.
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