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Aamir's Time cover: Why Satyamev Jayate mattered

Updated: August 31, 2012, 1:40 PM IST
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Aamir's Time cover: Why Satyamev Jayate mattered
Aamir Khan highlighted inequities like the rampant abortion of female foetuses, through his show Satyamev Jayate.

New Delhi: Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan has become the third Indian actor to be featured on the cover of the Time magazine, for shining light on inequities like the rampant abortion of female foetuses, caste discrimination and the slaying of brides in dowry disputes through his television show Satyamev Jayate.

He is featured on the cover of Time with the caption 'Khan's Quest'. The blurb says, "He's breaking the Bollywood mold by tackling India's social evils. Can one actor change a nation?" Khan reached an estimated one-third of the country with his TV talk show that tackles persistent flaws of modern India that many of its citizens would prefer to ignore.

It was only after his show, Rajasthan government promised to set up fast track courts to resolve pending female foeticide cases in the state. Khan was also invited to Parliament to discuss the issue of FDI in pharmaceuticals.

He met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to emphasise the plight of manual scavengers. The other two Bollywood stars who have made it to the cover of Time are Parveen Babi in July 1976 and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in 2003. Other Indians on the cover of the magazine include Sachin Tendulkar, Sania Mirza, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Narendra Modi.

'Satyamev Jayate', or 'Truth Alone Prevails,' is a clever blend of hard news and raw emotional appeal - part 60 Minutes, part Oprah. Its influence has even prodded the notoriously lethargic government machinery into action, though it's too soon to know what policy changes may be in the works. After an episode exposed rampant medical malpractice and championed giving cheap, generic medicine to millions of India's poor, Khan was invited to address a Parliament hearing on health care.

Hard-hitting talk shows are rare and certainly none has acquired even a fraction of the popularity and buzz Khan's has generated since its debut 11 weeks ago. And Bollywood superstars have ventured into television only to host glitzy game or reality shows.

For many middle class Indians - comfortable in their belief that their country had moved beyond most of these problems - Khan's show has been a gut-wrenching and poignant dose of bitter reality.

Khan's show created such an outpouring of outrage that the government of Rajasthan, with one of the worst gender ratios, promised action, and a village head there formed a committee to check against the practice. Khan, 47, began his career in Bollywood as a romantic hero in the late 1980s. But over the last decade he has broken new ground in Bollywood, fashioning a career path combining the social consciousness of George Clooney with the hero appeal of
Tom Cruise.

Now one of the industry's very biggest stars, he has the cachet to push through any project he chooses. He produced, directed and acted in a film about the journey of a misunderstood dyslexic child. His film '3 Idiots' examined the sorry state of India's education system. He's thrown his weight behind social causes - joining anti-dam protesters and embracing an anti-corruption activist. The talk show has cemented his status as Bollywood's first true activist-star. Khan initially was asked to host a TV game show. He refused.

'Satyamev Jayate' has tackled many horrors unique to India: the torture and murder of young brides for bringing insufficient dowries to their in-laws; the shunning and degradation of those at the bottom of Hinduism's caste hierarchy.(All additional information from AP)

First Published: August 31, 2012, 1:40 PM IST
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