Let me start with a disclaimer. I am completely in support of the cause Aamir Khan featured in the first episode of the much-promoted Satyamev Jayate. But there’s this nagging feeling, because I expected much more. Because I do feel there are better formats down South. Blame my perspective on a rotund old man called Visu, who rose to fame directing family dramas in Tamil cinema. And a few others, including the likes of modern day star Surya (with his NGO), and somewhere in an in-between generation, actress Lakshmi, with, a show called (take a guess) Kathai Alla Nijam (Truth, Not Fiction)!
Visu's Arrattai Arangam on Sun TV, and now Makkal Arangam on Jaya TV, are both talk shows. The former aired on Sunday mornings; so does the latter. A common feature to both is a large audience.
Visu travels to towns across Tamil Nadu (and other markets where Tamil-speaking populations exist), and gets people down to the largest auditorium in that town. And that happens after multiple auditions. Women, children and men are put into the audience, and split down the middle - to speak for, and against.
What is common to Visu and Aamir Khan is that both speak for social causes that deserve to be spoken about. Visu too shoots and airs videos of people, telling heart rending stories that rivet audiences in the auditorium and in living rooms to their seats. But Visu's shows have more than one point of view that come through strongly.
They are common, in that the organisation or cause they are espousing benefits at the end of the show. In the case of Visu's show, it's not through SMS, but through funds routed through the show and handed over on television to the deserving or sometimes even under privileged on whose tears the show earns its eyeballs.
Visu's case studies on positive change that has come about represent a ray of hope for the sea of those seeking it desperately. That model is still available for replication by Team Aamir.
It's one thing to put out statistics on the basis of research among 1,000 people in a particular market. It's manageable to get two academic-NGO types to comment on issues. What Satyamev Jayate needs to do is get activation beyond the SMS channel. No, I'm not being old-fashioned. I checked the website minutes before it crashed. It was as unidimensional as the show itself - there was just one video featuring Aamir and a few features. It crashed, and was back, and I checked again - nothing had changed. It wasn't reflective of the change it sought to bring about.
It's perhaps obvious that the website (like a lot of other things) is in the works. Creating a social movement today is not possible without going online. All the positive comments on social media are fine, and there will be some by me and my friends too. But the impact that Visu made leading to tangible action was missing in the SMS I sent to donate a rupee thanks to Satyamev Jayate.
There are some like me, who, by the music video promoting the show, were led to believe that we would see Aamir in the arms of aam India, hinterlands included. But hey, this is the first episode. May be they're saving the best for last.
But what is inevitable is to expect the end result benefiting those concerned before the show is out - as it happens with the Oprah show that this is supposed to be on the lines of. A complete mechanism leading to the change, in some form, is a must. I won't take that tack of saying we are all Indians and we like to see change for the better as the ending of our stories. Ever wondered why the person representing the NGO on the news channel is the most cynical of the lot? Aamir’s team could take the same stand: that they will not pretend that all is well when all isn’t. But then, they will have to answer what NGOs are often asked: ‘But what have you done?’
After all, our news channels (and their anchors) would perhaps offer a comparable or better fare, if Satyamev Jayate is just a studio talk show on issues like female foeticide - tear-jerking included. One hopes that this show will show the change it seeks to create, before it has had its run. Awareness must lead to change.
(Anantha Narayan is an award winning copywriter working with 1pointsize, Chennai)