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Doing good

July 29, 2012

RARE though it is for South Asia’s raucous television industry to throw up informed programming with a social conscience, Bollywood star Aamir Khan seems to have managed it with ‘Satyamev Jayate’ (Truth alone prevails). An estimated 500 million people will tune into the last episode of the show’s first season, which is due to be broadcast tonight. The content is common enough: throw light on social problems through inviting victims to share their stories with a live studio audience. The issues taken up by ‘Satyamev Jayate’ include gender selective abortions, dowry requirements and caste discrimination. What lifts this show to such popularity, though — necessitating its distribution in seven languages — is not just the celebrity status of its host but also his handling of those being interviewed and the thoroughness of his team’s research. While it is not without its detractors, the show is having an effect. One of the early programmes highlighted seven-year-old footage of more than a hundred doctors in Rajasthan offering to illegally abort female foetuses. The doctors continued to practice while the legal cases against them languished in the courts. After being taken up on Aamir Khan’s show, though, the chief minister of Rajasthan said the cases would be transferred to special courts where decisions are expedited.

It has been argued that some of the success of ‘Satyamev Jayate’ is because Aamir Khan has managed to do what many others have failed: tug at the heartstrings of India’s mainstream by putting Bollywood tropes to work in the service of larger social causes. Others maintain that the loyalty Aamir Khan invokes from fans draws from them greater honesty. Regardless, this is a praiseworthy example of a celebrity using his unique status to do good. Internationally, wherever causes have been espoused by celebrities, the result has been beneficial. The world needs more such people.