Satyameva Jayate

By Rohit Bansal

In May 2012, sitting with a borrowed iPad, a few metres from the White Nile in Juba, I saw a show aiming to flow against the current of television advertising. The Nile, as we know, flows from south to north!

Being aware of the merciless onslaught of weekly rating numbers, I had hoped that “Satyamev Jayate” would ride the tiger. But knowing a bit about rating meters, I doubted whether India’s Rs. 80,000-crore (Rs.800 billion/$13 billion) media and entertainment industry, or even the high priests of “responsible TRPs”, would take notice.

The time-tested wisdom is, and remains, that audiences and adverts can’t be sold, week-on-week, without selling your soul. But I’m glad I put my money on actor Aamir Khan, the lead, and the Star Network. The duo gave our corporates a window to put their lot with social problems and not just bump-and-grind competitions and inane comedy shows.

So, I am happy that Star is back with “Satyamev Jayate Season 2“, if only to shame the notoriously play-safe media planning folks into footing their bill. Confession: I did question last time the merit of simultaneously proliferating “Satyamev Jayate” on nearly a dozen channels, including Doordarshan.

Also, writing as I did then from Clooney Country, where the Hollywood actor’s satellite has become the world’s primary source to check Khartoum’s war atrocities, I set the bar for Aamir at a scale beyond one “Satyamev Jayate”. The jury is out on whether or not “Satyamev Jayate” and now Season 2 give enough bang to the brands that spare shareholder money on buying airtime on the show.

Enough naysayers think “Satyamev Jayate” is a mere tearjerker; that Aamir and his producers merely skimmed the surface and steered clear of a lasting solution to anything. But this column is about the counter-narrative. Ask civil society groups, for example, who got serious funding thanks to “crowd sourcing” and matching grants from “Satyamev Jayate’s” philanthropic partner.

Yes, the money spent by Star and the sponsors wasn’t recouped. Much worse, if anyone has gained, it isn’t even Star, and its group of ideators, but Aamir, who emerged as the nation’s 21st-century Ram Mohun Roy – not to mention B.R. Ambedkar, Vinoba Bhave and Baba Amte.

Surely, an actor is nobody compared to giants who devoted a lifetime to the emancipation of women. But what it does is to bring the social agenda back to today’s twitterati. That said, a few minutes of television on, say, rape – as in Satyamev Jayate Season 2’s launch programme – can’t turn wolves into sheep.

No butcher wearing doctor’s clothes turned into a chartered member of the Missionaries of Charity thanks to Satyamev Jayate Season 1 in 2012. Killers throttling the little girl child of India kept finding support among Khaps. Nor did everyone stop sniggering at a Dalit the moment she turned her back.

But for their courage to look at these problems in the eye, shouldn’t we give our “shabash” to the underwriters? They dared to spend the bucks, not just moan and groan about bad content. Kudos to them for supporting change rather than bowing to the TRP economy.

Bitch we must over whether Aamir became the Knight in Shining Armour, and that Star was left to handle the bills! But how about celebrating a whiff of positivity over voyeurism and occult that passes off as Indian television. In “Satyamev Jayate” 2012, Star PR claimed that the show touched one in every two Indians on cable TV. But TAM numbers extrapolate mostly what auto-rickshaw wallahs watch!

So, what really mattered was that a few of us put our thumbs together on Twitter in solidarity for Cindrella Prakash, a victim of child abuse. Far from perfect! But the marriage proposals Prakash received on mass TV need to be lauded. Paradoxical as it may sound, the taste (and test) of “Satyamev Jayate” lies in the sequel that just started. I hope it can iron the wrinkles of the last season.

Satyamev Jayate is also the punchline of the Indian nation. Verse 3.1.6 of the Mundaka Upanishada, in full, states:

Satyameva jayate nan ta
satyena pantha vitato devayana |

Venakramanty ayo hyaptakama
yatra tat satyasya parama nidhanam ||

(Through Truth the divine path is spread out by which the sages, whose desires have been completely fulfilled, reach where that supreme treasure of Truth resides).

More power to its believers in India Inc.