Half Truths and Image-building: Satyamev Jayate

It started with the promos. Sunday, day to laze, wake up late, lounge in bed, have a cuppa. Then switch on the TV to watch the reality of India. Satyamev Jayate: Truth shall prevail. Walking near the sea, the host addressed us, telling us how he could not remove himself from this truth, how we cannot. And then we faced an audience. Yes, we faced the audience – they cried, they were moved. This was the idea. We were being judged by the standards of how a studio audience was judging, and the audience mimicked the host.

I will not take a swipe about what a superlative actor Aamir Khan is. But he is missing the reality more than anyone else. This is not Rancho of ‘3 Idiots’, who can do a techie version of Munnabhai, including the jaadoo ki jhappi, the magical embrace.

I did not watch it at 11 am on Sunday. I was not sleeping, therefore I am not his target. Some of us have other things to do. I did not watch the repeat late afternoon. At night, after the music show I catch often on weekends, he appeared again, with the wind in his hair, the sunset framing his silhouette. As you can see, I have not mentioned a word about the content. This is the problem.

The “most talked about show” is like any other reality show, even the much derided ‘Sach Ka Saamna’. The difference is that the host comes with a squeaky clean record of involvement in socially-relevant projects, never mind that all those are timed to promote his films/his ideas.

I do not grudge him the money he gets for every episode – reportedly Rs 3 crore. What I have issues over is that he assumes we are a bunch of ignorant people who do not know the truth. Every ‘discovery’ by him showed members of the audience with a set of expressions: wide-eyed, open mouthed, hands on lips, shaking head. It is clear that Mr. Khan did not know much, until his researchers ran through reams of work on the subject that exists and is read by many people, at least the ones who watched his show.

The subject was female foeticide. Three women were invited to give their personal examples of being forced to go through abortions or discard their female offspring. Two were from small towns and one a doctor from Delhi. This was to tell us that it does not only happen in the villages.

Have you not seen anything like this before? Also, the important saviours were men. He is promoting a patriarchal notion where women have to suffer, and if they brave it to give birth to female children then they have to leave home and manage on their own. There was no mention of male responsibility.

This was so disgusting, because many women do not have the means to earn. A strong message about taking the men to task, to insist on maintenance should have been made. What this programme did was to create a ‘ladies special’. The fact that the first show used a woman’s subject, knowing well that the telly-watching audience comprises largely of women, was marketing strategy.

Worse, via teleconferencing we got to see a bunch of men in their 30s in Haryana who cannot marry because of the skewed gender ratio. Instead of getting them to speak about the problem that has been created by their own, he let them talk about the lack of women and how they should get Salman Khan to be with them. Aamir said that Salman’s problem was different – he was surrounded by women and found it difficult to choose. Clearly, this man is a sexist under the garb of a women’s rights proponent. The message being that if you are a hero of sorts then women will follow you everywhere and such problems like female foeticide don’t mean a thing. As I said, he is scoring brownie points with his little huddle group.

I’d like to see him deal with other real issues that he might be more familiar with: the casting couch, promiscuity, lower pay for women in the glamour industry, extra-marital affairs, nepotism in the niche professions. Deal with your own weeds, too.

Is it fair to judge based on one show? It is. If you are talking about the ‘truth’, then don’t behave as though it is a bolt of lightning. And I dislike the idea of the sainted Aamir Khan writing a letter to stop this practice and asking us to send a SMS saying Yes or No. What the heck does this mean? What if there are a considerable number of ‘No’ responses? Will he wear purple robes and appear on the balcony to give his blessings so that the poor ignorant are washed off their sins? And if there are a majority of ‘Yes’ replies, will he take the credit for bringing about change?

Rather tellingly, he writes out ‘Satyamev Jayate’ on sand. It’s about impermanence, about being washed away by the waves.

This show is about making people cringe for a while as they watch real people reveal the burden of living lesser lives from our forced seemingly vantage unreal positions. This is the only way the host can wave his magic wand.

(c)Farzana Versey


  1. satyamev jayate hum aapka saat hai.bahut hi achi serial hai. thank you aamir. you have done a great job.

  2. like you i haven't seen it either - mainly because i usually avoid tv.

    but i don't really get your point. amir khan is an entertainer (not necessarily in the sense of making the audience happy) . that is his profession. and it seems to me that is what he is doing. marketing is part of that job too.

    my experience is most indians are in general very ignorant . because of exceptionally bad primary education - curiosity , doubts , logic etc are not our forte. and tv reaches to all most every indian. so if the show hurt a bit of national pride, make people cringe a bit , even if temporarily, provoke debates, raises questions - i say congratulation.

    i completely agree with you - a real test will be if amir khan has the courage to highlight the problems , which can potentially make him uncomfortable.

    ps: extra marital affair may be unethical but is it criminal?
    the salman khan comment may be in a lighter vain and you are reading too much in it.

  3. Nandakumar:

    I am not Aaamir, or his emissary, but I got your point. Hum aapka saat nahin hai lekin

  4. Carvaka:

    I did watch the show, but at the last repeat telecast. Else how would I give details?

    Being an entertainer is one thing. Let us not mix it with social consciousness. Do recall he joined Narmada Bachao Andolan for a few hours and took his Rang De Basanti team there. His entertainer persona overshadowed the cause.

    Issue are not solved or even remembered by cringing for a while.

    Let us see if he is ready to get comfortable about his terrtory where his digressions will come into play.

    PS: I do not think extra marital affairs are criminal and there are levels of ethics involved here, not a single one fits all. I mentioned it because some people want others to be honest but cannot do so themselves.

    A lighter comment has a place and time. This, IMO, was not it. There is nothing to read in it, let alone read too much in it.

  5. I think you, as the author, are symptomatic of the problems ailing India's mindset. Instead of seeing that the show brought to forefront an issue which affects us all, you are nitpicking and commenting on the personal gains Amir is extracting out it. Couple of points for you to ponder upon -

    1. Agreed that the show did not bring about any brand new information for the people who occupy the cyber world. However, it brought the topic (which is usually a taboo) up for discussion. Even if 1% of the people who watched it are affected by it, have a change of heart and pledge to save the girl child, the show will have created much more impact than you have done with this article. The newness of the information is not the point. the point is that the already existing information is presented in a manner that it becomes useful information from which people can learn, rather than just statistics and numbers.

    2. Amir Khan is an actor and an entertainer. He is not doing it for charity and yes, he gets paid a lot of money for it (all of which he deserves, by the way for doing a hard day's work). But that has nothing to do with the show. If you could move your myopic vision out of Amir's persona (apparently, you are super star struck), you would realize that the show went much beyond him and actually touched people's hearts. I am inclined to believe that the tears in the eyes of the audience were real. Mine were when I saw the woman who had been bitten by her husband. If you didn't feel overwhelmed by emotion, maybe you are far too cynical.

    3. The issue was presented in a way so as to give hope to women who find themselves in these situation. The call for maintenance from husband and such stuff is all judicial matters and it was mentioned that their cases are in court. However, it was highlighted that the women do not need maintenance. They are self sufficient and even with very limited education and skill set, they are able to provide a safe upbringing for their children. Two of the examples were women who would be considered "not able to earn their living" like you mentioned. But the point is that they still are.

    4. I somehow pity you that you are so cynical, you cannot see beyond the marketing gimmicks. Try and broaden your mind a little and you will see that yes, there may be an element of marketing involved (and only because that is required to capture attention in today's world of short attention spans) but the whole point of the show is something different.

    Stop nit-picking, do something worthwhile and use your pen to spread the word about ills like these instead of trying to tell the world that someone did a horrible job of their effort. At least, at the very least, they made an effort. what did you do?

  6. Anon:

    If anyone is starstruck here, then it is you. You need an 'entertainer' to tell "1%" of the country about India's truth. Yes, people will get moved by such sights. (My work outside studio confines has exposed me to much of it.) It is also voyeurism, a way to feel better about oneself. Psychological manipulation.

    But, of course, you are not a cynic, the dreaded deathknell for those who don't wear blinkers. Btw, a cynic cannot be myopic because you've just accused her of nitpicking. So microscopic, perhaps.

    And no one grudges him earning the money for honest work. I said so. And we do what we can. In my case, write. It's a pity you came here to check out what a hero was being put through. If you have the time - after your Sunday 11 am date with the TV set - perhaps you'd like to check out some of my work? No SMS needed.

    And do NOT pity me, for it only reveals your arrogance, and that you can ill-afford going by your limited access to information.

    PS: Is Anonymous your name or are you just self-effacing? Stop lecturing and tell me about what you do.

  7. Hi

    I came across your post (and blog) via twitter. I read the post with interest. I read A Closer Look.

    I would like to state some points, some in response to your points in the post and some in general:

    1. Why is "marketing strategy" a negative word? Especially, why in this context? People in general don't have a problem with marketing strategies of films and brands, because they are understood to be the requirement of the business. Why then, is it wrong to devise a "marketing strategy" of a show the makers feel should reach out to a vast audience? Why does one expect austerity in behaviour and strategy when it comes to social awareness (never mind the fact that you don't think it is social awareness)?

    2. "What I have issues over is that he assumes we are a bunch of ignorant people who do not know the truth." Well, guess what, you can't generalize here. Who do you mean by "we"? Yes, people in India are a "bunch of ignorant people" due to no fault of theirs. Personally, you wouldn't like to have someone preaching you on any topic or sermonizing about what is wrong with this country, and that is fair. But to say that no one out there needs a wake up call is untrue.

    3. Mr. Khan, by virtue of his celebrityness (bestowed by none other than the citizens of this nation) has the means to be part of creating such a show, he has the skills to connect to the people at large (no, every thing said in an emotional tone is NOT emotional manipulation). He uses his stature to at least address an issue of concern and aims to take it to the masses, so what if it also promotes his movies? Is promoting a movie wrong? Or you feel he is "tricking" people? Oh, so you'd rather have him promote his movies by getting people to SMS for answering trivia questions, participating in mindless contests on TV, and so on.

    3. In all probability, Mr. Khan did not know much, as you say. But now he knows. He knows because he chose to be part of the show. Do you really expect him to be well versed with the nuances of the issue? His researchers are the real people behind the content. He is the face for the people. Like I said, he has the talent, and daresay, the power to connect with people. If say, a person from the research team had hosted the show, how many would have watched it? Did you expect Mr. Bachchan to know every answer to the questions he asked on KBC?


  8. 4. Mr. Khan did raise points about men being responsible for the issue. Did you feel he was not vocal about it? Well, I felt he was not vocal about emphasising the fact that many women are equally responsible for perpetrating this evil. You first don't have the interest to watch the show, and then when you do, you criticise it for being imperfect. Yes, imperfect it was, due to limitations of screen time and the scope of the topic. People have a limited attention span. Try to make a show 3 hours long to cover each and every nuance, and you'll ruin it. It had to be concise enough to have people's attention for a while and drive home a point. It was successful just because of the fact that it got people talking.

    5. Oh, you have a grudge that people are talking not about the issue but about Mr. Khan and oh-how-wonderful-he-was-on-tv. When people used to see the zoozoo ads on tv, they liked it and talked about it. Was vodafone worried people were not actually talking about them but the zoozoos? Of course not. This is a way of creating recall, by giving people an anchor to identify a brand with. When people are now talking about Mr. Khan, they are not talking in the context of 3 idiots or delhi belly. they are talking about him in the context of a social-issue-he-brought-up-on-tv. Yes, few might be talking about the finer points of the issue at hand, but just putting the idea and awareness in people's heads is a good achievement.

    6. I agree with your view that the show and Mr. Khan will be really tested when it is the turn for more sensitive issues, debatable topics to come up. In fact, it is highly unlikely that a real debatable topic will ever be part of the show (this topic was clear cut, with little to debate on the merits of the practice). So what? At least its a start. At least it will highlight some broad issues, if not all.

    7. Another interesting point you brought up about men talking about the skewed gender ratio on videoconference. Yes, this is a problem with the media in general. And a strange one at that. No one questions the perpetrators, its only the victim who is interviewed.

    I would suggest you read @vidyut's post, nice points it has http://aamjanata.com/some-questions-raised-by-satyamev-jayate/

    PS1: This has become a rant, but all well intentioned. After reading so many articles about the show, your blogpost just triggered a response.

    PS2: Is it fair to judge you by reading one blogpost? I guess, it is :)

    PS3: Yes, this is an anonymous comment (not the previous commenter) , and I am not asking you to do or not do whatever you do. I'm sure you're honest in your life and deeds, it's only the way you think that I am presenting my opinion about. As for what I do - little besides trying to engage myself in fruitful discussions.


  9. Bollywood has always been directed from Hollywood almost from its inception, whether it is movie plots or techniques and now even social consciousness.

    Publicity stunt or not; if someone was going to do it, I am glad it is Aamir.

  10. the show is being used as a cover for his personal gains... that is it what i am strongly against...
    he says he has left all endorsements for the show, it has affected his life in a great manner, etc. then why does he have to charge 3 crores per episode. plus, it is his production, his concept, all the money is going to him in anyways yet draw 3 crores per episode for 16 episodes!!! that is too much.

    the show has maximum marketing budget for any tv show in india.. if people are already attracted to his persona then why spend so much.. instead donate the money if you pretend to be so socially aware. he is still asking for money from people through SMSes which many think that the full amount will go towards the cause as if the telecom industry would not grab the opportunity.

    the show if i am not mistaken also was to be telecasted on Doordarshan National.. he has time to come on Star Plus Tv serials to promote his show but not on DD. why, so those so-called TRPs and ad rates could be hiked??
    according to him, 11am time was very emotional for him and he did not want to compete with prime-time shows. then why repeat the show the same day on different channels on the same day?

    the issue at hand and the attempt is good. but using it under the garb of social message is what offends me...
    it is deceitful which many fail to understand.

    just ask yourself, would you have seen the show if someone like Aftab Shivdasani or Fardeen Khan would have hosted this show to "make you aware of your social situations"? no offence to the above actors but i think people are seeing this is for aamir khan and not with the intention of being socially aware. even after watching the show, what difference have you made? were you not aware of situations before Aamir khan came?? why do you need aamir khan to instigate an urge to work upon these stigmas? what have you been doing in your social studies lectures throughout school?


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