Aamir Khan Television Templar - The New Indian Express

Aamir Khan Television Templar

Published: 09th March 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 08th March 2014 06:14 PM

The year was 2001 and Aamir Hussain Khan was on a high, riding the worldwide success of Lagaan. At the Locarno Film Festival, where the Oscar-nominated film bagged the Prix Du Public, the superstar confided to his co-star Amin Hajee about a disturbing phone call he had received. “He told me that he had been getting calls from the mafia asking for money. And that he had politely but forcefully refused to bow to the demands. He explained to me that ‘if I give in now, I will have to always. If you give in to something that is wrong, you are only encouraging it’,” recalls Amin, actor-writer and Aamir Khan’s longtime friend. It was telling moment in their relationship of over 15 years. “I realised that Aamir is someone who walks the talk. And he does what he thinks is right,” says Amin emotionally.

With Satyamev Jayate he got it right. “There were channels and production houses that wanted me to do game shows or judge reality shows. With no disrespect to either, I always thought that television is a very popular medium and if I was to do TV, it should be something that makes an impact,” says Aamir.

Almost two years after the incident, Aamir—who started as a child actor in 1973 with Yaadon ki Baarat—decided to come of age as a social crusader. He approached TV director Satyajit Bhatkal with the basic idea for Satyamev Jayate that debuted in May 2012. It ran for 13 episodes across nine channels and was dubbed in five different languages. TAM Media Research data showed it reached over 8.96 million people and garnered an overall rating of 4.27 TVRs in the metros. Aamir is back on the tube with the second season of the show that aired this March, with a searing look at rape in India.

The Show that shook urban india Satyamev Jayate that debuted in May 2012 reached out to over 8.96 million people and garnered an overall rating of 4.27 TVR in the metros.
The actor, who has always maintained that he focuses only on one project at a time, has made an exception for Satyamev Jayate. While shooting for Dhoom 3 and PK last year, he kept track of all the research his TV team was doing for Season II. “I’m involved with everything. There are initial discussions about various issues we want to tackle. Very often these turn into arguments because we are a passionate lot,” he laughs. Once the subjects are decided on, Bhatkal’s team gets on the research and Aamir is kept updated.

The star is happy with the impact it made. “At the core of it, SMJ is an attempt on our part to understand a subject and then share our understanding and findings with everyone. We want the audience to understand the subject not just intellectually but also emotionally. Every issue has different facets—personal, social and legal. We want to look at each one from as many angles as possible. So, when we did an episode on domestic violence, the audience meets victims but also understands the law and are given the statistics so they know how widespread the problem is socially,” he says.

Aamir backs anna Aamir sent out a letter in support of Anna Hazare when the activist was on a hunger-strike in New Delhi. He himself came to the capital to appeal to Anna to break his fast.
SMJ’s impact on Aamir has been profound. “My outlook to life has changed. In almost every episode there were things that I wasn’t aware of so I also learnt a lot. So, I would be surprised in every episode, sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a bad way. I also learnt a lot emotionally and spiritually. How people are struggling. They have no power of any kind and still they have so much internal strength and dignity and inherent goodness. When I would hear their story, I would think that I’d meet someone who has given up, who is broken but when I could talk to him or her, I’d be taken aback by their strength, innocence and purity.”

Something in them spoke to his inner courage. Aamir’s characters have been about vengeance—noble or dark, like ACP  Ajay Singh Rathore in 1999 film Sarfarosh who brings down a dreaded Pakistani agent; the rustic patriot who defeats the British with the allegory of a cricket match or the memory challenged avenger in Ghajni. Issues obsessed him—colonialism (Lagaan and Mangal Pande), Rang de Basanti (corruption), and Taare Zameen Par (dyslexia). Through television activism, the 48 year-old actor with elfin charm and Peter Pan looks has transformed revenge into a call for justice, espousing causes. This taught him much about the power of forgiveness. “When a mother talks about her son who is killed, she does it with so much love and dignity and she has no anger for the person who killed him,” he says. Tears roll down his face. As he uses his tee-shirt sleeves to wipe his tears, he apologies and jokes, “Sorry, see, this is how easily I cry.”

Batting for the underdog In 2006, Aamir participated in a demonstration in Gujarat over the government’s decision to raise the height of the Narmada dam.
Last season, detractors made fun of how much Aamir cried on the show. His one-line defence is “this is how I am”. “I am an emotional person and I always tear up when I hear a heart-wrenching story. I cannot pretend otherwise. The last time there were episodes where I completely broke down. We didn’t show that. No one needs to see 15 minutes of me crying. It’s in the rushes, in case anyone’s interested in watching me cry for academic reasons,” he says with a laugh.

While shooting Season II of the show, Aamir confided to Amin that he thought he could get better at controlling his emotions. “He told me that he thought this season would be easier because he has done this once before, but it hasn’t.” The show’s director Satyajit explains, “Aamir is very analytical but he is also emotional. When he hears something, his first reaction is emotional. It is a very human reaction.” This emotional voltage is also what makes him one of India’s best actors.

Activism and Aamir

"Atithi Devo Bhava," Aamir Khan in a video grab from a public service advertisment for the Tourism Ministry’s Atithi Devo Bhava campaign that aims to create an attitudinal shift among the masses about being polite to foreign tourists.
Whether it was Amitabh Bachchan as an ageing Marvel in Shahenshah or Anil Kapoor taking on the might of state in Nayak, the crusader fighting a rotten system has always been a popular trope in Bollywood. Aamir is probably the only actor to have carried big screen activism into public life as others sang and danced at charities for a fee. Over the years, Aamir has been associated with various public awareness campaigns like Atithi Devo Bhava for the Tour ism Ministry, supported causes and was a UNICEF ambassador.

The first time Aamir revealed his radical persona was when on April 14, 2006, he participated in a demonstration along with Medha Patkar over the government’s decision to raise the dam’s height. On the Narmada Bachao Andolan, he told reporters, “As a concerned Indian citizen, I have come here to lend my support to these poor Adivasis who will lose their land will be displaced from their homes, if the height of the dam is raised.” It was as if Lagaan was coming alive within is creative imagination.

Lyricist Prasoon Joshi, who wrote the lyrics for Taare Zameen Par and has worked with Aamir on several awareness campaigns, says Aamir’s socially conscientious nature gets reflected in his choice of work. “I believe whatever you are as a person gets reflected in your work. Aamir makes a choice in doing something different than a regular TV show. He doesn’t do it consciously. I would say his activist side gets reflected in his work involuntarily.”

It’s been only four years since Aamir started working on SMJ but it has been in the making for a very long time. Aamir’s cousin and actor Imran Khan’s mother Nuzat Khan remembers the family as always being very socially aware. “We never brushed any subject—no matter how disturbing or unpleasant—under the carpet. The whole family would discuss whatever was affecting them socially, politically or culturally. So, I guess you can say that he imbibed this habit from his family,” she says.

Captain planet He has been a part of the fight against climate change. He has supported and campaigned for the Earth Hour Initiative since it was started in India in 2009.
Aamir grew up in a family deeply entrenched in Bollywood so in his early years most discussions would revolve around films. “As we began to understand cinema, there would be discussions about how sexist or racist our films were. We would just demand more from a medium as powerful as cinema. I think, if you see Aamir’s films post Sarfarosh, he has not allowed his films to be sexist or biased,” says Nuzat.  

Amin recalls a conversation he had with Aamir while they were shooting their first film Ghulam together. “Roja had just released and I thought it was very jingoistic. It picked one section of our society to be the bad guys. And I remember telling Aamir that I thought it was very unfair because I would die for my country.” Years later, when Aamir finished filming John Mathew Mathan’s Sarfarosh, he called Amin for one of the earliest trial shows so he could see the film’s unbiased handling of this issue.

His outspokenness on social issues, however, has not been without consequences. Aamir’s remarks against the Gujarat government and chief minister Narendra Modi evoked violent protests in the state just days before the release of the Yash Raj Film’s Fanaa. The film wasn’t screened in Gujarat and the BJP demanded that the actor apologises for his remarks. Aamir refused to, and the film lost a sizeable amount of collections because Gujarat is a big territory for Bollywood. He maintained a stoic face in public but personally the fact that this had hurt a producer really affected him. “Aamir is a producer’s son. He knows what this business means. I remember him telling the story of his dad looking for his graduat ion certificate after his film flopped. Even though YRF was the producer of Fanaa and the loss wasn’t that much, Aamir was distraught after that incident,” remembers Amin.

But the Fanaa incident didn’t stop Aamir from staying true to himself and his beliefs. In 2011, Aamir sent a letter in support of Anna Hazare when the Gandhian was on hunger strike in Delhi protesting corruption. The actor flew to the capital to appeal to Anna to break his fast. He also wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh requesting him to pay heed to Anna’s demands.

Fight against Malnutrition Aamir Khan was the face of the Malnutrition Quit India Campaign of the Women and Child Development Ministry.
“Aamir strikes me as a socially aware person who is sensitive to what is going on around him. He is using his stature to do something about the world around him that makes him stand out from others in Bollywood,” says director Reema Kagti who worked with Aamir in Talaash (2012). “He has always taken a stand on issues. I wouldn’t say just Satyamev Jayate—which happens to be one of the many and an extremely effective way to bring about change.”

SMJ has also triggered protests and rumours of threats to Aamir but the actor brushes them off. “No, there have been no threats. I recently heard that I am driving around in a bullet-proof car because of the threats,” he laughs, adding, “Our choice of a topic is not determined by pressure that we could face if we aired that episode or how much buzz that topic would create.”


Way Forward

Aamir is the first Indian celebrity to exploit star power for social causes. In the West, celebrities embrace causes that resonate with guilt issues that plague society.

In 1974, sex kitten Brigette Bardot gave up acting to take up the cause for animal rights. Bono of U2 is considered the top gun of celebrity activism, rubbing shoulders with world leaders and tycoons to free Africa from debt and AIDS awareness, which won him a Nobel nomination.

Celebrity attracts attention to causes; George Clooney’s Save Darfur rally in Washington and the attention it gathered brought him to the United Nations Security Council to plead for action in the Sudan. Brangelina adopted African children, followed by Madonna.

Walking the talk In 2012, after a Satyamev Jayate episode on manual scavenging, Khan met PM Manmohan Singh to highlight the concerns of manual scavengers in India.
Walking the talk In 2012, after a Satyamev Jayate episode on manual scavenging, Khan met PM Manmohan Singh to highlight the concerns of manual scavengers in India.
The Bollywood activist, reportedly worth $180 million, however, feels a Messiah cannot exist in a democracy. Says Aamir, “I believe that we empower people with information. My question to everyone is ‘What have you done with the information? Have you made any changes in your life or those around you’?” he asks.

Aamir feels SMJ has impacted India at the ground level, even if it is at a small level.

“People have opened generic medicine shops. Many panchayats have pledged to stop girl infanticide. You might be aware that Maharashtra and Rajasthan have released their report on the ratio of girl vs boy child. In that there has been a 40 per cent increase in favour of girls. This is a huge impact in just one year,” he claims credit for the change.

The famous lines he uttered in Talaash seemed like an indication of things to come. “Koi kitne der tak dooba rahega? Kabhi na kabhi teherke aana padega,” he raged.

“While he continues to ride bikes and romance his leading ladies and be the perfect husband and father, Aamir has higher dream—a vision for India. The ultimate vision is what our forefathers wrote in the preamble of the Constitution. The people who fought for us had a vision for India… Justice, Equality, Liberty and Fraternity. My vision is to fulfill their dream.” Aamir’s dream is to rid India of nightmares. In the end, his conviction is that Truth Prevails.

Also Read:

Aamir’s always been a person of great personal integrity. He has always been that kind of person who will ask himself first and foremost what is the right thing to do and he will not deviate from that. Read More



The September 2012 issue of Time magazine’s Asian edition featured Aamir Khan as India’s first superstar-activist. Read More


Taking The Path Less Trodden- Aamir magic. Read More


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