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Star or Social Reformer?

Friday, May 11, 2012
Deepa Gahlot

The media has been making a big noise about Aamir Khan’s TV show Satyamev Jayate. Not having seen it, one can’t comment on the show, but what is amusing or disconcerting is that many people now actually believe that a TV show will make a difference. That by watching Aamir Khan crack down on female foeticide the Indian mind set will change overnight and daughters will be valued.

 If it does make a difference, kudos in advance to Aamir Khan and his team, but it hardly seems likely.  Much as we’d like to believe it, films, serials or TV shows seldom have such a deep impact on audiences. In the good ol’ days, filmmakers like V. Shantaram, KA Abbas and BR Chopra made a lot of films highlighting social evils, but decades later, casteism, dowry, gender inequality and neglect of rural issues still persist. 

Some years ago, there was a revolutionary TV show called Rajani, directed by Basu Chatterjee, starring the late Priya Tendulkar; she played a housewife who took on various social problems.  Then, it looked like it had a very strong impact; social and community groups were formed to fight for various causes. How many of those groups still exist is anybody’s guess.  Even before that,  Doordarshan serial Hum Log ended with a social message by Ashok Kumar.  Back then, Hum Log groups were formed all over the place, but again fizzled out once the serial ended. Public memory is very short, and the desire to do good is diluted by the problems of everyday living.

Which is not to say that celebrities with the power to reach the maasses should not use it for the benefit of society.  But then this power should also step out of the screen, and get its hands dirty so to say. Shabana Azmi’s work for slum dwellers and the underprivileged, for instance, is an ongoing campaign, that includes advocacy, fund raising and direct involvement, not just making media statements in support of a cause, or acting in public service films (for which, shockingly, many actors charge a fee).

Again, this does not mean that stars and celebs should not throw their weight behind causes, but people should not expect stars to fight their battles for them.

Change comes slowly and when a community or society is ready for it, not just to demand it but to live it. A show like Aamir’s has only highlighted an issue everyone already knows about, and maybe generated a debate, but parents will stop killing their daughters when society can provide safety, value, dignity, equality and independence to females of all ages.  But how seriously can one take film stars’ proclamation of progressiveness, when their lives and films do not necessarily reflect it.

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