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Has 'Satyamev Jayate' redefined TV shows?

Many say 'Satyamev Jayate' has created television history and that it is an exquisite piece of journalism.

Sagarika Ghose | http://sagarikaghose

Updated:May 8, 2012, 12:23 PM IST
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Has 'Satyamev Jayate' redefined TV shows?
Many say 'Satyamev Jayate' has created television history and that it is an exquisite piece of journalism.

New Delhi: Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan's first television show 'Satyamev Jayate' has proved immensely popular after the very first episode was aired on Sunday. The show carries a strong message of social change and calls for a fight against the evils of society. 'Satyamev Jayate' many say has created television history, others are calling it an exquisite piece of journalism.

The question is whether the show has redefined entertainment and news television shows. The question was taken up by IBN18 Network Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghosh on her show Face the Nation.

Here's the transcript of the discussion with a distinguished panel:

Sagarika Ghose: Hi there, has actor Aamir Khan changed the rules of television? Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan's first television show 'Satyamev Jayate' has proved immensely popular after the very first episode was aired on Sunday. Simulcast on Star Plus and Doorshardhan, the show steers clear of glamour and celebrity and instead focuses on the serious gritty real issues that affect us all. The show carries a strong message of social change and calls for a fight against the evils of society. 'Satyamev Jayate' many say has created television history, others are calling it an exquisite piece of journalism. Has it redefined entertainment TV and perhaps even news TV? Joining us tonight is the director of 'Satyamev Jayate' Satyajit Bhatkal, writer, columnist, TV critic Anil Dharker, TV host, anchor Mini Mathur and Director, Centre For Social Research Ranjana Kumari. Thanks very much indeed for joining us.

Sagarika Ghose: Satyajit, let me just kick it off by asking you a news point question first which is at the very outset that Palash Sen of Euphoria has sent you a legal notice for copying the anthem of 'Satyamev Jayate' from an old track of 2000 title 'Phir Dhoom'; what is your reaction to this?

Satyajit Bhatkal: This is rubbish, there is nothing in common at all. It doesn't even deserve the dignity of a reply, the lawyers are taking care of it.

Sagarika Ghose: You would not like to comment any further on that particular controversy.

Satyajit Bhatkal: Anybody who hears it knows that it's complete rubbish, there is absolutely nothing in common between the two tracks. It doesn't deserve a reply.

Anil Dharker: Actually we should play them together.

Satyajit Bhatkal: No, it actually doesn't even deserve that effort. It's complete rubbish.

Sagarika Ghose: Right, let me then just come to the substance, the focus of this discussion, Satyajit, your programme which I admired greatly, I honestly did and I'm going to lay my cards on the table; many have and one of my colleague who I respect greatly has written on IBNLive.com that this programme is a exquisite piece of journalism, the research that you have done the voices that you have brought; many of us even in mainstream journalism have perhaps lost our way and became prey to glamour and celebrity whereas this really is a refresher cause of what journalism should be. I certainly saw it as that. But at the same Satyajit, to produce this one hour on female foeticide you did need Aamir Khan, you did need a superstar like him. Do you think without him, without the stardom of Aamir Khan this obviously would have not worked in a way it has?

Satyajit Bhatkal: If you have seen the show, what has worked for a lot people and we are getting almost an avalanche of reaction, has been the voices that you hear on the show. So yes Aamir does provide a great platform, he also provides an extremely sympathetic, articulate voice to their stories, but above all it's the voice of the people of India perhaps have not been heard on the mainstream GEC platform in this manner which is what has reached out to a lot of people. So the show belongs to almost every single guest that we had on the show as much as it does to Aamir.

Sagarika Ghose: So it's basically the voice, Anil Dharker someone who follows the television very closely, is this an entirely new format? Because our own network on IBN7, we do a programme called 'Zindagi Live' which is very similar in format, which again is emotional, emotive, passionate, real issues with the real people and real protagonists in the studio, it's a talk show but there of course the difference is Aamir Khan. Do you think the format is extremely original or is it scaled up and given the kind of stardom that Aamir Khan brings to it?

Anil Dharker: Well you know, the stardom is obviously is there, I mean no one can doubt it. Aamir Khan is Aamir Khan. The whole advertising campaign, the full page ads of Aamir Khan's face on the front of every national newspaper, on all the hoardings etc, I mean that is the attraction for people to come and watch the show. But it's like a movie, when you go to see a movie, let's say it's a Shah Rukh Khan movie, a Salman Khan movie or an Aamir Khan movie, that has drawn the audience but once the audience is in the theatre, it is the film which works, it is the content of the movie which makes it work, the star can bring you to the theatre but it can't make the film work. And I think this is something we should not overlook that it is the content of the show, Aamir Khan is the magnet drawing the audience to the show but then it is the content that made it so successful. And I think anyone who watched it first of all was moved so much, then the extensive research which was done, which you referred to in your introduction, the human interest stories that were portrayed, the fact that these women actually came on the screen and talked about their own experiences. I think the cumulative effect of this was so overpowering that it has had an impact which is unprecedented. I don't think in terms of format or shape it is extremely original because when you think about it there is hardly any original programmes, am not I right? How many original ideas can you get whether it's TV or screen etc. But it is the way is picturised, the way you put it together which is what makes it original and successful.

Sagarika Ghose: It is the way it's done. You have a very valid point there. Yes Satyajit come in.

Satyajit Bhatkal: Yeah, if I might add I think one of the attempts we made, I don't know how far we succeeded was that we tried to provide a 360 degree view to the issue. So it was like each segment uncovering a new layer. Although you had three women, each of these women had a particular point which they were bringing out and it was also the analysis. Aamir takes you to through the statistical data. I mean statistics are something we look as extremely boring but here we had a whole segment, you know we went through census data, then we analysed how the child sex ratio has been falling. Now, the moment it was put in the context of the real human stories what we realised was that behind each of this statistics are millions of real people going through extremely agonising experiences and that I think help the analysis to happen in the context of real human drama. So perhaps that is one of the things that helped to connect with the audience.

Sagarika Ghose: That's exactly what it did. In fact the range of voices, the range of experience you got, it really was incredibly impressive and as I said it was an excellent piece of journalism which in mainstream news channels you would not have one hour on female foeticide and we were so riveted by that kind of a programme but Ranjana Kumari is someone who has campaigned long and hard against female foeticide, we all have been campaigning against this kind of infanticide, against this kind of torture that is heaped on women. Do you think that this kind of a programme can bring real change, can it be a real catalyst of change? Or will just stay at just raising awareness? Will people just watch Aamir and go back to their normal life and do what they are doing?

Ranjana Kumari: Well Sagarika, I wish as it being called avalanche, I mean I wish it simmers into the society and brings the change that we are looking forward to. You very rightly said that the women groups have been working on this issue for years so it not really being discovered by this one single programme. But I certainly am appreciative of Aamir Khan's courage to come forward, even if it is for a one time episode, tomorrow he'll talk about some other issue, day after some other issue and certainly I wish all those issues that he'll take will hit the society as hard as we think it will and will not remain a tea table talk and will not remain an one time emotional outburst. Female foeticide is such an issue you know now generations of women are now declining, continuously, constantly we have a very weak piece of legislation which is not being implemented effectively. We have these greedy bunch of doctors who are…

Sagarika Ghose: Does it make you little frustrated that you have been campaigning on this for years but now it takes an Aamir Khan to bring to the nation's consciousness, it has actually taken a Bollywood star to actually make it come alive whereas people in this field like you have been campaigning on this?

Ranjana Kumari: Sagarika, I am in fact more than happy that Aamir Khan has brought this and to everyone of you, in fact you've been talking about this and I remember having joined your programme earlier and on many occasions, so at least the whole nation has woken up, a mirror has been shown. If Aamir Khan had to become an anchor I think it is good, I am really really happy about it but at the same time I am worried that is it that the lid is open and the fizz is out and the bottle becomes as stable and as usual. So I think this fizz has to continue it has to boil the society and everybody who is today angry, emotional; so saw that in the programme none of the men were crying, I have seen so many Oprah Winfrey's programmes, the issues she brings, I have seen your 'Zindagi Live', people cry, people feel bad and that is it. But I don't want this issue to die like this, it cannot. And Aamir Khan should remain committed because we need him, we need people like him.

Sagarika Ghose: It remains a reality show, it doesn't go beyond that. Let me get Mini Mathur, Mini Mathur is this a change in entertainment television as a genre because when know seeing the blurring of the line perhaps between news television and entertainment television, we have seen in the Arab spring the way it was covered even on platforms that were not necessarily news television, you know the Anna Hazare movement; this is actually I am reading from a blog written by 'Aam Janta', it has written that in fact people who are consuming entertainment also want something serious from entertainment now, they don't just want empty glamour, empty glitz, they are looking for reality, they are an intelligent audience. Do you see them audiences are kind of maturing of the audiences that are viewing entertainment?

Mini Mathur: Absolutely Sagarika, I think you know what's been happening is so far entertainment has been totally associated with loud laughs, humour and completely you know either it has to be the saas bahu drama or it has to be loud humour but now it takes a Aamir Khan to show you that there is space for socially relevant entertainment as well. I mean entertainment is not just laughs and tears, entertainment is something which engages you frankly. And I think Aamir got the country engaged for an hour and a half without anyone making a move from what they were watching and that's entertainment. While I will not use the term entertainment to belittle the relevant change that he has brought to the business. I think it should open up the lines and definition of what should be termed as entertainment. I think the audience is maturing, they are ready for programming like this but it takes Aamir Khan to tell the channels that I am doing it and I am doing it my way so you better just sit and watch.

Sagarika Ghose: It's infotainment and not entertainment but Satyajit let me quote again from this bloger call Aam Janta who has actually made some every interesting points, he has written it is a proper commercial show on a proper commercial channel backed by corporate sponsors and anchored by a celebrity, can this show take up causes that will conflict against its corporate interest? Coca Cola, the company that Aamir Khan endorses is accused of spoiling waters resources, does this mean that a show like this which has such a commercial cloud and a celebrity like Aamir Khan will not take up causes at the commercial backer or the corporate backers or the corporate backers will not sponsor.

Satyajit Bhatkal: I think we should really look at what the show has already done rather than make any claims. In the last 36 hours we have been extremely humbled and overwhelmed by the kind of response we are getting. Let me just quote two of them, one is a senior IAS officer in a state government which I will not name, who had two girl children and after that he was so desperate to have a male child that he made his wife undergo eight abortions in the quest for a male child and after the eighth abortion the doctors told him that look if your wife conceives even once more there are very less chances of her surviving nonetheless he was determined then they had a male child and the wife died immediately thereafter. Cut to eighteen years later now the show is aired and the man goes public with this information, breaks down and admits what he did was wrong. Now what we are having is mothers-in-law apologising to daughters-in-law, we have these people tweeting and telling us that look we planned to do sex selective determinations and abortions but we won't do that. So the people are changing. Now you asked about corporate interest, what this has to do with corporate interest?

Sagarika Ghose: The fact is as you explore different issues in Indian society, you may come across issues which are very sensitive, I want to ask that to Anil Dharker as well, you know not every issue, or not every social evil is black and white. For example how do you cover issues of the Gujarat riots in a format like this, how do you cover sexuality in a format like this, how do you cover generation gap in a format like? I mean when we found this, when we covered this social issues, in female foeticide the enemy is very clear but in many other issues there are shades of grey. Now can a format like this, can a possibly simplistic format like this explore the issues that are caste in shades of grey?

Anil Dharker: Well you know in any newspaper or a news channel you can take an editorial stance which might be in favour of one side of the argument and I think in many cases, you mentioned the Gujarat riots for example, I think generally you would say alright their might be one side to it and another side to it but overwhelmingly I know where the right side is. Similarly with a lot of issues, you may have grey but there is also black and white and I think as a responsible journalist you can see that and therefore, I see nothing wrong with an editorial stance being taken and it may not be looking at things in black and white. You can look at the greys and you can look at both sides.

Sagarika Ghose: But if you can take an editorial stance you may not be as universally popular because an editorial stance will always be provocative of one or the other side.

Anil Dharker: Why do you have to be universally popular? You can provoke thought, you can provoke discussion. You can make people think about issues. You know that is also very important of society.

Satyajit Bhatkal: The show has a clear editorial stance and we will continue having that.

Sagarika Ghose: You will have an editorial stance. Ranjana Kumari, does commercialism bothers you? Does the fact that this is a highly commercialised show, a number of people have tweeted that the show should be free, why does the show take commercial breaks? Does the high level of corporate sponsors in the show, does the fact that there is a celebrity, the fact that the show is driven by commerce as much by the idealism, does that bother you?

Ranjana Kumari: Well Sagarika we all should be very clear in our mind that this corporatisation of a social issue, I am not to quarrel with that, if corporate take such a big challenge and try to do that but only I am hoping and praying that this not one of the acting pieces which we saw in 'Lagaan' like come on the stage create emotions, make people cry and do all kinds of things and then completely forget about it, move on to other issues. And please don't call it entertainment, I have serious objection to it. This is such a serious crime the Indian society is committing on humanity and by no stretch of imagination we can call it entertainment when women who are made to suffer the way they have been made to suffer and they are telling only one, two or three stories, there are millions of women who are suffering in our country every day nobody is listening, nobody is hearing, nobody wants to know them and that's the reality.

Sagarika Ghose: It's just as well that when a Bollywood superstar is not doing game shows, not doing reality shows but in fact turning his stardom into social issues that's the value of this programme and it was a terrific programme that we saw on Sunday. Aamir Khan has made his television debut with immensely popular 'Satyamev Jayate' and we are asking has television news as well entertainment or infotainment been re-defined by this particular show? Satyajit Bhatkal, I am going to read out a viewer's SMS which I have received and which actually ties in with the first question that asked you, he said that the director of 'Satyamev Jayate' have delusions of grandeur, without Aamir Khan this show would have disappeared without a trace. This show is Aamir Khan, Aamir Khan and Aamir Khan. Why does the director of Satyamev Jayate not admit that.

Satyajit Bhatkal: Because I don't believe it. Certainly Aamir Khan has added a huge multiplier effect to what the show's audience is but as anybody who has followed television over time will tell that stars do not necessarily manage to carry the television audiences with them. If we have it is finely because of what the show has to say seemed to connect with a lot of people. So this has nothing to do, in fact you know I want to say overall that I think this kind of thought is informed by cynicism. I think it is very important that as a country and people we stop being cynical and have some faith in something which is innocent, a thing which is naive, a naive thought which I am saying but then it is informant by my naivety and my foolishness, not my any grandeur I would like to think. It is basically because I believe that people do really need to get engaged with real issues which we face today, in fact a lot of young people who we have been interacting with and they want things to change and believe that things can change. And above all I think the show is connecting to that idealism and that hope and I would really I think we should engage with we each other in a non-cynical manner.

Sagarika Ghose: That's a very good point.

Anil Dharker: I would endorse that because I think there is just too much cynicism in this country. Anything that we see is good then we start sating what is behind it? For example what you read out about corporatisation, if you look at it every television show is corporatised, even this show. You have sponsors, you have advertisers but does Sagarika Ghose get influenced by the advertisers? She doesn't. She is an independent person, she has her own editorial insight. And I think this goes for every self respecting journalist or a director. You know we shouldn't forget this point that there are enough people in this country who care about issues and will do something which is right. And I think this show does that, Aamir Khan stardom helps in this.

Sagarika Ghose: But it's the content that the people are engaging with. Mini Mathur does this show shatter many of the marketing wisdom, many of the marketing beliefs that held that sex sells, and celebrity sells, and beautiful women sells and those are the things that sell. This is a show that is getting TRPs without any regression, without dummying down so will it shatter perhaps the number of marketing myths that have become so oppressive?

Mini Mathur: Absolutely, and there is nobody happier than me and having to say that it shatters every marketing myth that there is and before that I just want to add to what Satyajit said, you know there have been enough film stars that have made their debut on television and beyond the two episode nobody really waited and watched the entire show because of the star power they only watch it for the content. So to say that the nation is watching it only because Aamir Khan is hosting is absolute rubbish. Secondly, this diffing about channels, finding little, little faults and being cynical about oh they are getting SMS money, what's wrong with people, here comes a show which says it like it is in the most bright and the most compelling way and yet engages the nation for an hour and we are finding faults in it, I don't understand it completely. And you know, weren't we just waiting for this?

Sagarika Ghose: That's right, again that's a good point the fact is that it doesn't matter what in fact the funding is the fact is which is a very important message is getting out. Ranjana Kumari being a long activist are you worried that the show might encourage arm-chair activism? That people could just watch it and be comfortable, are you worried that it might just transfer the gratification to just watching the show but not actually acting?

Ranjana Kumari: Well Sagarika I think you just said it, actually I wish that all this euphoria, all this overwhelming response really concern, all that you are hearing, tweeting, you know Facebook and everybody all of a sudden has become very awakened on the female foeticide issue after a week when the next issue comes in and people will continue to do that. And I don't think this is very naïve, this is a very calculated risk just ask the people who have done this programme and with 30 years of my movement if Ranjana Kumari anchors a programme do you think anybody will, you know.

Sagarika Ghose: You never know Ranjana, we'll all watch don't worry.

Ranjana Kumari: Let's not forget that Aamir Khan is Aamir Khan and they have hired him to do it so he is doing it. I am happy that he is doing it, let me not make anybody think that I am not happy about it. It is very good that he is doing it.

Sagarika Ghose: Satyajit Bhatkal, indeed an hour on female foeticide is not something we don't see on channels and even on news channels and as I said it was an exquisite piece of journalism and a reminder of what journalism can be for many of us even in news media who have lost our way. Thanks very much indeed.

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