Middle-India wants a do-gooder

Full disclosure before I start rambling on with this post – I don't like Aamir Khan, and I don't have a television. Haven't had one in the seven years that I've left home. With the aid of modern conveniences, such as the youtube device, this post is, for all practical purposes, a subjective view on middle-India.

The other day the Twitter machine was humming excitedly with news and views on Aamir Khan's ambitious new attempt to make "meaningful teevee". I logged on to the youtube device and sat through the entire opening episode of Satyamev Jayate. That's right, one straight hour of commercial-free video feed on the speed-limited connection. The show, mind you, has got all the spit and polish of a well-researched package. The camera zooms in on a creepily Oprahesque Aamir Khan, who'll tell you about his burning desire to make television more meaningful, and he then dives straight in to this week's burning issue – killing unborn girls. And within the first ten syrupy minutes of the opener, I was hooked. 

So now we have something middle India desperately needed – a super hero. And this time, Aamir Khan, despite his planet-sized ego (which he makes no effort to conceal) has made the right moves. Armed with a team of highly specialised researchers (cyborgs? media gurus? astrologers?), Aamir spends the next 50 minutes breaking the facts down for the saas-bahu-serial-watching uncle / aunty / munna / munni in Kanpur, Kota, or wherehaveyou. Without getting into the details of the programme per se, Aamir does an admirable job. He emotes at the right moments with manic efficiency, he guffaws, he's amazed, he wipes a tear. It is a tamasha with a heart, and the audience can't seem to get enough of it. Short of whooshing camera pans, this is exactly the formula that clicks.

That's right, he'll cry for you, every time.
Image courtesy StarPlus

The show goes on, mothers who had to undergo forced abortions are interviewed. They talk with frayed nerves of steel, spilling their horror stories with quiet calm. There are pauses. Aamir wipes a tear. Journalists, activists, doctors are called in. Gruesome statistics are projected on screen. The audience gasps. Yet Aamir manages to save the day, doing something entirely unexpected, and wonderfully clever – he embraces his ego, and cashes in on his star power. Short of prancing about the neighbourhood in a cape (lungi? kanjeevaram tied around the shoulders?), Aamir makes no bones about being a superstar, who'll use his clout to fight for the side of the good aam-aadmi.

And that's why, despite his planet-sized ego, all his me-talk, his trophy south-Bombay chic; Aamir Khan manages to push the right buttons. That's why, despite his irritating presence and well-rehearsed emotions on the couch, the man (and his PR team) did a smashing job of it. He knows he's a superstar, born in a culture that worships heroes, and by god, he'll milk his stardom for all it's worth. I'm not entirely sure how "meaningful" television will become, post-Jayate. But for what it's worth, this is a sign that people in this country are perhaps finally tired of the NDTVs and the Ekta Kapoors who make up the Indian television machine.

Just so long as Mr. Khan doesn't star in another 3-Idiots, I suppose we can applaud him, for once. Sure, he can walk in wearing a cape – his halo will ensure no one takes notice.

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