By Rakesh Raman
Most in India would know that Satyamev Jayate, which is a local phrase, means truth wins. And here’s a TV show under the same banner that debuted Sunday, May 6, on Rupert Murdoch-owned Star Plus channel in India.
The show hosted by a Bollywood actor Aamir Khan (and produced by his own outfit Aamir Khan Productions) promised to bring forth the truth about the harsh realities in India. The opening episode was on female foeticide, which is stated to be rampant in India.
For public consumption, the subject was good, but not the show. The one-hour program with a promiscuous mixture of some random clips pasted here and there – looked like a video patchwork. This type of loose content is mostly seen in Bollywood movies and Khan kept that legacy intact in his TV program.
Sometimes the program behaved like a documentary; on others, it was a soap opera with a couple of people in the audience who were shown shedding tears in a dramatic style like film extras do. It also looked like a semipolitical harangue that subtly expressed the host’s ambitions to enter the political arena.
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But assuming that it was a real show to highlight the truth surrounding the issue of female foeticide, Khan and Star Plus failed miserably to achieve the objective. How?
It began with the paradoxical messaging. In the beginning, Khan narrates the importance of a woman in the society. But he goes on to portray women as main conspirators to commit crimes against other women through a few cases.
As he had a preconceived assumption that the decreasing female population according to India’s national census is because of foeticides, Khan was trying to sensationalize the issue by his gestures like loud sighs, tears, and other verbal innuendos. But he couldn’t substantiate his conclusions that female fetuses are being aborted on a large scale.
It may be a universally known fact. But when you are showing it as a TV program, you have to substantiate all the facts, removing all ambiguities around them. You can’t do it in a freewheeling manner while concluding that the entire “Bharat Mata (patriotic reference to India) is bleeding.”
But the show host Khan kept throwing random, baseless figures without revealing the source. For example, he said 3 crore (30 million) more girl abortions are expected in the next 30 – 40 years. Thirty or forty? Who said? How did he arrive at this figure?
Similarly, without any basis he said 2 crore (20 million) males in India won’t get wives in the next 10 years because females are being killed in the wombs. How do you know that? Is it a prediction or estimation? What’s the truth? Only God knows or Khan knows.
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But these kind of careless utterances in any editorial exercise are considered a crime. Khan doesn’t understand the subtleties of mass communication and kept making reckless statements as if he was acting in another loosely made Bollywood film. He doesn’t understand the difference between raw data and real content.
The drama element in Satyamev Jayate also was intentionally embedded to sensationalize the proceedings. For example, the clip on a handful of men in a Haryana town to show that they are unmarried because the girls were being killed had no meaning at all. It was again a random enactment through which Khan tried to generalize the issue as if it’s happening across the country of over one billion people.
Plus, a couple of his supporters shown as researchers, social workers, professionals, etc. were making casual, sweeping generalizations without revealing how they concluded all that they were saying. Strangely, one was even allowed to ridicule a court judge.
And among the fundamental flaws in the program was to show just one-sided unsubstantiated stories of a couple of women while failing to take the views of the alleged culprits. How can you show this loose, casual stuff? But Khan did it without any restraint.
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Surprisingly, even the channel’s editorial staff that is supposed to know the rules of producing ethical content didn’t seem to have any control on him or the show. Loose language, tardy pace, sudden jerks, and Khan’s own weak screen-presence were among the other irritants.
As most Indian viewers, who have grown up watching cheap Bollywood films and meaningless Indian TV shows, can easily be taken for a ride, the channel did exactly that. But as this channel is also believed to be distributed worldwide by Fox International Channels, a subsidiary of Murdoch’s News Corporation, it will find it difficult to fool intellectually informed audiences in other territories.
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It’s said that each episode of Satyamev Jayate consumed about one million dollars (most Bollywood films are made at this cost) and advertisers are shelling out Rs. 10 lakh (about $20,000) for a 10-second spot. But it’s difficult to digest this data considering the poor quality of the show. Such programs are only fit for anti-examples in mass communication schools to teach students not to make any such program.
Actually, Satyamev Jayate showed you many things but didn’t tell you anything. So, if you want to better utilize your time on Sunday mornings, you can stay away from this show in the coming weeks. Instead you can spend that time on other important household chores like watering the plants, giving a thorough bath to your pet, removing the cobwebs from your room, or even staring at a blank wall.
That is the truth for now. And that’s Satyamev Jayate.
You can also read: More Articles by the RMN Editor, Rakesh Raman