May 15, 2012

The Day I Looked Away from the Mirror

We are a strange race. If no one does anything, we comment that since no one does anything, “is desh ka kuch nahin hoga.” If someone does something, we try to find the hidden truth behind the intention. We are a strange race.

Typically, I am extremely sceptical about reality shows, chat shows and basically anything that seems to be not a soap opera. I find them disturbing to the point of voyeurism; a classic example of a decadence that leads to social collective voyeurism and a desire for five minutes of fame; not even fame; rather spotlight.

But I watch them because as a society we watch them. We revel in the antics of the “not so famous”; we watch as life plays out before us, we all become the audience of The Truman Show. And that has been my excuse. “I am waiting for a show that is worth it” was my popular refrain while I kept myself up to date with Splitsvilla.

A few weeks back, Aamir Khan launched a massive media campaign which had just two focused selling point – Aamir Khan and the mystery about the content. No one knew what he would be talking about, what he will be doing. But the tragedy was that almost everyone who spoke about it; said it was to do with “some social cause.”

I do not claim to be a great marketer. But I can sense a few worrying signs if I am near one. The nature of all public discussion was detached. And it seemed all the more worrisome when you looked at the other reality show on television – Roadies. Satyameva Jayate from the very beginning was classified as the show which will speak about social issues – something that the consuming class of India was content leaving to Anna Hazare and the self proclaimed Civil Society. And there were no one vociferously discussing what could Aamir be talking about. The only shares on FB were the link to the Title Track.

This news article gave me a big cause for concern. I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just say that while a lot of people switched on their TV sets to watch SMJ, a lot of people switched off after watching it for 10 minutes or so. India was not ready to be shaken awake from a well deserved Sunday morning.

This disturbed me a lot and I tried to get the ratings from a friend but they will come only on Wednesday, the day of the week when the fate of Indian TV shows becomes known to one and all and to marketers specifically.

But what was more disturbing to me was my own behaviour. Being based out of India, my only legal means of watching any show is if there is a legal site streaming it. So luckily for me Satyameva Jayate does stream its episodes. It’s a good marketing ploy. It allows your content to be shared and spoken about in the social media, generating a lot of buzz. And I like such pragmatic marketing.

What I did not like was what I did. I remember after the first episode, when we both were a little shaken up and I started telling her about Matrubhumi, one of the best movies ever made on the subject, I inadvertently switched the tab to go to MTV and watch the latest episode of Roadies.

In the second episode, as soon as it started, we knew in unison we will be streaming Roadies after the show as from television we had ceased to expect such glaring nakedness of our own society. Like addicts we needed our dose of regular entertainment and a show which was speaking of Child Sex Abuse was too much to handle for us.

That night I could not look into the mirror. I had become what I had feared to be. Indifferent, unaffected, disenchanted, unthinking, incapable of rage at the ills around me and impotent to do anything about what I felt, except running to this blog for refuge.

I still remember the first time I heard about this was when I was in Pilani and a very close friend told me she felt very strongly about it. A few of them got together once they graduated, tried to do something about it, but like most dreams that bloom in the safety of college walls it died soon after.

But it had got me thinking. If they felt so strongly about it, it meant it was happening around me and I grew more aware of it. The statistics revealed in the show was something I had picked up earlier and it had made me shudder.

And that’s when from liking Satyameva Jayate in the first episode, I started praying for its success from the second.

Yes, it has its flaws. The show is too long to hold audience attention on a Sunday morning when everyone in the family is looking forward to a late leisurely lunch. Aamir Khan sways between being a super star, a concerned citizen and a bad talk show host who interrupts and leads the interviewees, thereby curtailing spontaneity.

But then if not Aamir Khan then who? In Princess Diaries, my favourite part was where Mia tells the audience, there is so much more that she can do if she is a princess and not doing it would be the wrong thing to do even if it meant giving up on her own freedom as a commoner.

If because of Aamir Khan, our society watches and discusses the issues as female foeticide and child sex abuse, I am all for it. I want its TVRs to go higher, maintain its ad rates which apparently are higher than IPL (as of now but slated to crash if the show does not deliver) because only then will people discuss it.

I do not wish this to start a movement. I have given up on movements since the day most of the people I knew working around Nariman Point decided to go for a candle light march along Marine Drive rather than to a blood donation camp nearby.

But I do wish that this makes a little start somewhere in the hearts of the few who dare to watch it for the full length, because while it takes an Aamir Khan to be able to go and talk to the Rajasthan Chief Minister (unless a PR firm had already planned it – as a sceptic would say) it takes a lot of courage to come and talk about it on National Television as the participants did.

And while I will continue to watch Roadies after every Episode of SMJ, if I can change at least the world around me, one day I will be able to look into the mirror.


Anand Kashyap said...

Interesting man. For me, it was never a debate. I especially like the way he talks about the issues without creating a stir or getting preachy. Constructive criticism and action-orientation is what our arm chair critics lack. The tone of the show is definitely refreshing while the issues themselves are concerning and need action.

Also, the content is toned down for a mass audience. Who else could explain pie charts and bar charts to the normal Indian TV watcher? Phenomenal!

I too hope for its success and hope this brings about a change in the national attitude to these often-ignored issues.

Kudos to Aamir for putting his firepower for these causes.

Yogesh said...

Beautifully written Banjo :)

The hype after the first episode made me think that the show is working. I was willing to forgive Amir and everyone else for the commercial motives, only if the show could do what is seemingly aspires to do. However, with every episode, the hype is dying down. People are watching only for Amir and praising 'his concern' .. and totally ignoring the issue at hand. For the ladies, it's just another tearjerker... an alternative to the soaps they got bored of!

Madhurjya Banerjee said...

Thanks Guys. He is amazing more day by day