(Published in Sify.com, on 25 June 2012, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/why-india-loves-aamir-s-satyamev-jayate-news-columns-mgzalJbadcc.html?scategory=Topnews)
Since it burst into screens and filled lazy Sunday mid-mornings with contemplation of social evils and remedial activism, Aamir Khan’sSatyamev Jayate and his own motives in getting it on the air have been analysed from so many angles that Khan could fill a whole show with his conversations with those critics.
Chances are that a naysayer would appear first, followed by a yea-sayer, followed by a villager whose life and perspectives changed courtesy the show, a scholar whose life was jacked because the show appeared too late for him to figure that killing his infant or sexually abusing his child wasn’t quite healthy, followed by a born-again yea-sayer, followed by a lovely song from Swanand Kirkire.
I have no intention of analysing the loftiness of Aamir Khan’s motives, or the veracity of the show. What interests me is why we want our own Oprah.
When I think of Oprah Winfrey, there are some shows that pop into my mind – one where she interviewed parents who had accidentally caused the death of their own children, one where she spoke to people with multiple-personality disorder (MPD), one where she got a woman to chop off her long tresses (which the lady hadn’t cut since she was 8 years old), one where she dragged a tub of lard on stage, one where Ellen DeGeneres came out as gay, and several where there were attempts to patch marriages up, make dreams come true, and show off the ostentation that went with being Oprah. And, of course, the celebrity interviews.
Now, how does all this go into one show?!
The answer may be most obvious in a remark made by an audience member from the Bible Belt, who spoke up during the show where Ellen DeGeneres came in as a guest. DeGeneres and Winfrey were speaking about Oprah’s decision to play a psychiatrist in DeGeneres’ show Ellen, in the episode where her character came out of the closet.
The audience member was a mother of two, and was upset at a TIME magazine cover that had a picture of DeGeneres with the caption, ‘YES, I’M GAY’. She was even more upset at Winfrey’s decision to make a guest appearance on Ellen, because “Oprah is Middle America” – if Oprah is okay with homosexuality, so is Middle America.
For decades, we’ve been trying to ape America’s soaps, often to high TRPs, largely thanks to the non-English speaking population that isn’t familiar with the originals. We’ve aped Western game shows and reality shows to sky-high TRPs. And now, we have a desi version of the quintessential talk show – Oprah. Only, in this case, the host is already a star. His show is a draw because of him, and the show is sanctimonious enough to further elevate his aura.
Satyamev Jayate isn’t the first Indian talk show structured along these lines. The Tamil actress Lakshmi hosted Kadhaiyalla, Nijam(literally ‘Not a story; the Truth’) over a decade ago. She spoke to victims of domestic abuse, rape victims, bullied children, terminally ill patients, and several other categories of the disadvantaged and victimised; she cried with most of them, and comforted all of them. The drawback was that it was a regional show, accessible only to people who spoke Tamil. She was a regional actress, and had remained so despite her foray into Bollywood through Julie. And her histrionics were lampooned in spoof shows on other television channels.
A similarly-titled talk show, in the tongue that is rapidly becoming acknowledged as the national language, hosted by a star who is also an ‘actor’, whose recent production ventures have combined box office success with intelligent plot lines, has now taken Middle India by storm.
Is Aamir Khan Middle India? Perhaps he represents what Middle India could be. His isn’t a rags-to-riches story. His entry into Bollywood was facilitated by his uncle, Nasir Hussain. His good looks ensured that he became a heart-throb. The sentimentality of the Nineties made him a star. And what he does with his stardom is now making him a hero.
In other words, his career sweeps through an entire cross-section of India – the lower and lower-middle classes that were represented by his celluloid characters, the upper middle class which is represented by his family background, the conservatives whom he can coax out of their prejudices, the minorities he represents by virtue of his religion, and the elite whose views he appears to hold. And at a time when the whole of India is trying to embrace anarchy, latching on to whatever cause holds potential to rouse a mass movement,Satyamev Jayate alerts us to everything that’s wrong with this country.
Satyamev Jayate is taking over from Anna Hazare as an entity that finds echoes and support throughout a nation that is united by little else than the nomenclature of our national identity.
And as social media, mass media and the corporatisation of India bring people of various social milieus and socioeconomic classes into contact, we’re searching for ways to relate to each other.
We’re searching for topics that transcend polite conversation and ignite our passions.
We’re searching for a Common Enemy, and Satyamev Jayate provides us with plenty.
We’re searching for hope, and Satyamev Jayate promises us that people power can undo everything that has gone wrong.
We’re searching for the delusions that we need to sew together the segments of peoples and persuasions that make up this country.
And perhaps the best person to channel us into that particular brand of escapism is someone who has been at the heart of India’s one dependable source of escapism – cinema. Perhaps that’s why we want this particular Oprah – a man who can be Everyman despite a distinct identity.