Bollywood actor Aamir Khan has said that his show Satyamev Jayate is not an attempt to reform the political class. Rather, it is an attempt to provoke people to look inward and question themselves on their contribution to the society.
Speaking to CNN-IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose, the Bollywood star said that he alone could not change the society and that a change in people's attitude was required to make India a better country.
Sagarika Ghose: Hi there, and welcome to a Face the Nation special. Over the last two months, one television show has become a real talking point - Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate has stirred the conscience and provoked controversy and debate. But what has the show really achieved? To answer that and more is the man himself – Aamir Khan, who recently even spoke to a Parliamentary Committee on drugs and medical malpractices.
Aamir, thanks very much indeed for joining us on Face the Nation.
Aamir Khan: Thanks, thanks.
Sagarika Ghose: Each of your episodes on Satyamev Jayate has stirred a debate, awakened people and had a big impact. Did you think it would be like this when you started?
Aamir Khan: Well, Sagarika I have to say this that it is like a dream response that we are having to the show and this is the kind of response we wanted to have. This is the kind of impact we wanted to have. This is the kind of debate we had hoped to generate and discussions among people across, you know, the country – whether it is small towns, villages or cities, across economic groups. And that is exactly what is happening and me and my entire team is really happy about that.
Sagarika Ghose: Aamir you have just come back from Delhi where you were invited to talk to a Parliamentary Committee on generic drugs. Is this what you wanted to be, an activist who rouses the conscience of the political class?
Aamir Khan: Actually I don’t think we are trying to rouse the conscience of the political class in particular. That’s not what we are attempting to do. What we are attempting to do really is question ourselves, and in questioning myself, I am hoping that people will question themselves, whether you are in politics or a common person. In fact, in a large number of issues… what is required is a change in attitude. For example, all of us are surrounded by this patriarchal kind of thinking. Now politicians can hardly change that. The feeling that people have… of not wanting a girl child… that is a feeling. So we are looking to provoke people to look inward, rather than outward.
Sagarika Ghose: There are those who say that the show is a scripted attempt to build brand Aamir Khan. How would you respond to those who say that through the show, you are simply building your own brand?
Aamir Khan: You know I don’t react to things like this. What do I react? First of all I don’t think that everyone thinks that way. May be one or two think that way. But if they do, they are free to think that way. Each one is free to make their assumptions. As far as I am concerned, I am very clear why I am doing it. I am doing it because I have always felt that way. It is a thing that I have been thinking about for a number of years. I have always wanted to do it. Whatever I have gained from society, whatever I have got from society, I would like to give it back. And I would like to make use of the goodwill that I may have earned over the years. And I want to combine it with a strong platform of TV. I am really trying to reach the length and breadth of the country. So I don’t want to react to those who say the show is about me.
Sagarika Ghose: But do you believe that your persona, the persona of Aamir Khan is fundamental to the success of the show?
Aamir Khan: I am an integral part of it certainly. For me what is important is that where is my focus. I am actually a medium through whom this information is passed and hopefully getting to people. And there are people on my show who are giving this information. Often, these stories are done by journalists like yourself. So in our research we use the material that you all have already found for us. And I become the medium through whom the information is passing. My focus is not on me, but on the issue at hand and the people, from whom I am learning and understanding different things. And as I receive this things and get moved by them, similarly I am hoping that people who receive them through me, get affected by it just like I am getting affected. So the change or the journey begins with me before it begins with anyone else.
Sagarika Ghose: Aamir there are reports that the TRPs of Satyamev Jayate are not that good. Does that bother you?
Aamir Khan: I am very clear that our viewership is the highest ever. I don’t know what the advertisers do but I will tell you one thing. The reason I am not bothered about TRPs is because TRP number is given by just 7,000 boxes. And how is 7000 boxes going to tell me what India is watching. TRP is very different from viewership. And I am bothered about viewership, I am concerned about it, not the TRPs.
Sagarika Ghose: Let us now focus on the issues that you have raised – female foeticide, child abuse, medical malpractices. Do you consciously choose subjects that are not politically divisive? Would you for example take up issues like the Gujarat riots, or take up how a state handles communal riots?
Aamir Khan: Well you should wait. There are six more topics that are coming our way. You might find that we have taken up issues that are politically divisive as well.
Sagarika Ghose: Aamir, like female foeticide and other issues, religious intolerance is also an issue in our society. Now your identity as a Muslim, as part of a minority community, is this issue something that you feel strongly about, one that is related to your own identity?
Aamir Khan: I have always felt that I am an Indian first. And for me and the way that I have been brought up, we have not been taught to look at religion as a divisive force. I am aware there are people who do. But I am unable to look at religion from that point of view. We have been taught to be extremely inclusive in our approach and that’s how I am.
Sagarika Ghose: There has been a lot of criticism of your show on medical malpractices especially from doctors. They say you have maligned their profession. How do you react to them? Do you feel you have done the doctors an injustice?
Aamir Khan: I can tell you very categorically that I have done no injustice to anyone. I absolutely, completely stand by my show. Any doctor who does not indulge in any malpractice will be thrilled by our show. A number of doctors wrote in to me saying they have been really unhappy with the kind of things that is going on in their profession. So it is not Aamir Khan or Satyamev Jayate that has brought disrepute to the profession. It is those doctors who indulge in malpractices who have done that. There are those who are working fantastic. In fact I have said that on my show that not all doctors are indulging in malpractices. There are those who are doing justice to their profession.
Sagarika Ghose: My next question – in a lot of your episodes, you cry and emote. Do you feel that this kind of crying and emotional reactions adds value to the show?
Aamir Khan: See each time I am sitting just two feet away from a person who is telling me very personal things about their lives that affected them, I can’t help but be affected. In fact, the show is actually an edited version of how I react. There have been times when I have been so moved that I could not continue further. So the show would be stopped and resume after 10-15 minutes so that I can calm myself down and be in a position where I can carry forward the show. So we actually cut all that out. Once I have collected myself, we resume. So that’s the kind of person I am. There are people who are able to control their emotions. But not me.
Sagarika Ghose: Is it spontaneous?
Aamir Khan: Yes it is entirely spontaneous reaction.
Sagarika Ghose: So you don’t rehearse at all?
Aamir Khan: No, no we don’t rehearse. We don’t rehearse the show. What we do is in the two years of research, I have been through all the various tapes of hundreds of people who have spoken various things about their lives and when they are speaking to my team, they have no idea that this is being done for a TV show which is being hosted by Aamir Khan. They have no idea, none whatsoever. So they are speaking their heart out and I am listening to it. So on the show, when I am sitting with a guest, I have some idea about that person as I have seen his or her video. But this is the first time I am talking to that person face-to-face. And a connection forms, a bond forms. Sometimes they come up with new details. Sometimes I may not remember details from their tapes. So for me, it is again like a first time experience. So I am reacting spontaneously at that point of time.
Sagarika Ghose: What about privacy? Do you think you can go ahead and ask people whatever you want irrespective of privacy?
Aamir Khan: I cannot do that. Some journalists may do that. I cannot. I cannot probe beyond a point. I think we need to be sensitive to the people who are sharing their personal lives with us.
Sagarika Ghose: Aamir, once the thirteen episodes of Satyamev Jayate are over, how will you sustain the momentum? How will the real change you want to see happen once you go back to being a superstar in Bollywood yet female foeticide out there in India continues?
Aamir Khan: One person cannot bring about change. I cannot bring about change. I cannot be presumptuous enough to say that I alone can bring about change. The change has to be brought about by each and every Indian. Let us take for example female foeticide, which was our very first show. Having watched the show and agreed with its content, what do I as an Indian need to do? I have to say that from here onwards, I will not indulge in this. Second, I have to stop this in and around my area, my neighbourhood. The change has to be brought within oneself. The fight is inward… that I am not going to do it. I am not expecting people to come out of their houses and fight.
Sagarika Ghose: You talk about change in oneself. What do you intend to contribute in terms of philanthropy perhaps, setting up a foundation, contributing money to the causes you believe in…?
Aamir Khan: In terms of philanthropy, I am already doing various things. I just don’t like to talk about it on public platforms. I am also hoping that the kind of response we have had so far, it sustains for the 13 episodes. If people like the show much as to want a second season of the show, I would be happy to do that. So for me, this journey does not end here. I am hoping it will go on.
Sagarika Ghose: Now the question that many ask, what about politics? Would you like to be an MP one day?
Aamir Khan: No, no… It is not for me. I think I will be able to contribute a lot more towards society from the position which I am in currently. And I am very passionate about my work, about films and TV. These are my skills. I don’t feel that I will be to contribute as much from within a political structure.
Sagarika Ghose: But you don’t believe in the current fad of politician-bashing? That is something you don’t believe in or go along with…
Aamir Khan: No I don’t believe in this. No, I don’t go along with this. I am not saying that politicians are great guys. I am saying that they are one of us. The politicians are like us. The level of integrity that exists in society is reflected in the political class, in the media, in films, in medical field, in every arena, in every area. So our level of integrity is reflected in different walks of life. You have a percentage of people who are above board and a percentage who are not. By blaming 500 people for the problems of this country would be highly inaccurate.
Sagarika Ghose: So politician bashing is something Aamir Khan does not believe in. Your show is about the issues many journalists have taken up for years. For example, female foeticide. But do you feel that journalists are not doing the kind of work that they should be doing?
Aamir Khan: Well again like other fields, a lot of journalists are giving it their best, and then again there are those who are not. So would we like to see better journalism in India? I would say yes. See Sagarika, we have just one life. That’s the point I am trying to make. We have just one life, to make a difference. We can decide how meaningful we want to make our lives. We are not going to get a second chance. And that applies to each one of us, whether you are a journalist, or an actor or a businessman or a school teacher…Whatever you are. This is your one life you have got and you can make it really meaningful.
Sagarika Ghose: So how do we describe Aamir Khan today. Social activist or social reformer, an actor… Today how would you like to be described?
Aamir Khan: I guess my core competence lies in entertaining people. And by entertaining I mean to enrich your life in many ways, not just dancing or making people laugh. You know I met this American writer who said the job of an entertainer is not just to entertain but to enrich other people’s lives, bring grace to society. So I really liked that definition. And if that’s the definition of an entertainer, I would like to say that I am an entertainer who is doing all of these things.
Sagarika Ghose: Aamir Khan entertainer who would like to bring positive change to society. Thank you for joining us and thank you for watching.