Undoubtedly a hit, but will Aamir Khan create a social movement and emerge the newhope for Indians desperately seeking a leader? It is too soon to tell, argues Sucheta Dalal
Just a week ago, a close friend wondered why we hadn't had another television show like Rajni - the spunky, crusading housewife-next-door, effectively portrayed by the latePriya Tendulkar in the1980s. Rajni had India glued to the television for the 30 minutes when she took on corrupt officials and made us believe that we could emulate her.
More recently Bollywood cinemahas done its bit through inspiring films such as Rang de Basanti , Peepli Live and of course Munnabhai-2 which led to a spurt of Gandhigiri to deal with corruption and social issues across India. I like to think that it is this Gandhigiri ofMunnabhai that paved the way for the groundswell of support for Anna Hazare, the gritty, Gandhi-like fighter who broughtlakhs of people to the street andthe government to its knees by refusing to leave Tihar jail after an ill-considered arrest.
And now we have Satyamave Jayate whose first day receptionsuggests that it could shake up the nation out of its complacency with its detailed coverage of social issues every Sunday Morning. The first day reaction to Satyameve Jayate (SJ), especially on the social media, suggests that it is already a hit. Many say that India's venal politicians are watching it closely and SJ could soon have running for cover. Will it happen?
Lets take a closer look at the epic scale on which SJ is mounted. For starters, it will be aired on multiple Star channels and a tie up with Doordarshan gives it the kind of reach that Doordarshan had in its monopoly days - that is, if it holds it audience and can build on the first day reception. And indeed, Aamir Khan is just the person to pull it off. He has enormous credibility for the rolehe is playing and is known for his attention to detail. If media reports about his fee (Rs3 crore per episode) are true, he also had a terrific financial incentive to keep him tugging at our heart strings and clearing our tear ducts every week.
Lets not forget that Aamir Khan gets big bucks because his star power pulls in corporate sponsors looking to buy credibility (as in Reliance Foundation), visibility ( Aquaguard, Airtel), or revenue (text messages). Using the programme to raise funds for an NGO is also an excellent touch- although it is unclear how this NGO is selected.
The biggest plus factor in getting a top filmstar (could have been a cricket superstar too) to anchor the show is that it skirts awkward questions or suspicion about a quid pro quo for the sponsors. For instance the controversial Reliance Industries is hardly the epitome of good corporate behaviour and its role in cornering our natural resources, including oil and telecom spectrum is still under investigation. So it is ironic that Reliance Foundation is getting an image white-wash by making the grand gesture of funding deserving NGOs by matching the money raised from text messages. The sponsors who have reportedly paid big bucks to be part of SJ include ****** Airtel (media reports say that it paid Rs 18 crore) , Aquaguard (Rs 16 crore) and others such as Axis Bank (which gets a lot of airtime), Coca-Cola (will this ground water guzzler raise eyebrows of environment activists who are waging a long battle against it? Or would they rather hope to bea part of a future SJ episode?), Berger Paints and others. That advertising spots on the show are also being sold at thrice (Rs10 lakhs) the going rate for a 10-second slot.
SJ has clearly got off to a big start, the question is, will Aamir Khan will be able to hold his audience and ensure that they tune in every Sunday morning. It will happen if the issues that he deals with are startling, but more so, if there is tangible follow-up action. For instance, Aamir Khan has said he will write a letter to the Rajastan chief minister to club all the cases against doctors who were caught in a sting operation on the spread of female foeticide by two intrepid journalists. He asked people to text Yes/Now answers to the question - 'should the Rajasthan government set up fast track court to deal with cases arising out of sting operations on doctors involved in aiding female foeticide'. SJ's credibility will shoot up dramatically if the Rajasthan government respondsimmediately, or, if the High Court or Supreme Court had taken a suo moto decision to fasttrack the complaints after watching the episode (unfortunately the courts are onvacation).
In this case, the state government has not acted against the doctors caught in the sting, instead by the journalists are being forced to run around the state appearing as witnesses in multiple cases filed after extensive television coverage of the sting operation.If SJ can provoke definitive action or a serious public outcry based on its episodes, then it has a very real chance of turninginto the biggest mass mobilisation movement since our struggle for independence. But so far, the flutter is mainly on twitter and the social media.
In other words - SJ is indeed a hit, but based on the first show it is unclear if it will be just a great show or evolve into a game changing social movement and throw up a potential leader in Aamir Khan.
Satyameva Jayate: Will it charge up the nation? - Moneylife Personal Finance site and magazine