Exactly a month ago, actor, filmmaker and now a controversial anchor Aamir Khan said that he would be back to talk about his TV debut, to react to all the reactions that were bound to come in.
For a heart to heart Aamir Khan returns to Beautiful People to talk to Anuradha SenGupta about Satyameva Jayate.
The biggest criticism of the show is that Aamir Khan may be overdoing his expressions and reactions. However, he tells CNBC-TV18 that his reactions are unrehearsed. “When I am sitting close to someone who is telling me their story, it is bound to move me,” he said.
He further adds that there were certain instances where he was shaken up that he needed time to collect himself. “On a number of occasions, I have broken down to an extent where we had to stop shooting. It took me like 10-15 minutes to collect myself, I would go up to my make-up room, wash my face and come back and then continue the conversation where we had stopped,” he said.
As far as experts are concerned, he says they sometimes say things which are not in their testimonies, which shocks him. He also explains that even though the research is with him beforehand, he interacts with the guests for the first time on the show.
Below is an edited transcript of the interview. Also watch the accompanying videos.
Q: There are a lot of reactions that have come in to your reactions. You tear up, you have these very startled and shocked expressions, and the reactions have bought the question why is he overplaying it, is he acting? It is not a live show, he knows about this, his research team has given him this material. What do you have to say to it?
Khan: You see the thing is that this is my natural reaction, I am not acting. The fact of the matter is that when I go through documentation, you have to understand that this documentation has been done two years ago. This research, which has been happening for the last two years, the bulk of it was finished research one year back. So I have seen testimonies and interviews of people for 13 episodes, and for each episode I must have seen interviews of 40-50 people.
Now when I am speaking to a guest who is with me on the show, that is the first time I am speaking to that person about that topic. I meet that person one day in advance just to introduce myself, but we don’t speak about what we are going to talk about. So on the day of the show is when I have the conversation.
Now if you look at survivors, people who have been through difficult times – Rizwan’s mother can tell me his story 10 times and each time I will cry because it’s an extremely moving story.
Q: Told with such stoic dignity, isn’t it?
Khan: She is such an amazing woman, she has got so much dignity and poise about her and is so gentle that she amazes me.
Even Harish’s story, who was a survivor of child sexual abuse. Do I know his story? Yes, I do, but I am hearing it from him for the first time. When I am sitting this close to him and he is telling me his story, it is bound to move me. I don’t know who it would not move. When a person is telling me his or her own experience first hand, it affects me, that is the kind of person I am. I am not acting, this is how I am.
In fact, on a number of occasions, I have broken down to an extent where we had to stop shooting. I took time to collect myself and then I would continue the conversation where we had stopped. That of course is edited out because we cannot have me crying on camera for 15 minutes saying nothing. So we have reduced it to the best of our abilities.
As far as the experts are concerned, often they have said things which have surprised me because they have said some amount of things which I have been through testimony of, but when they speak in front of me, they often come up with sentences that they have not said earlier which shocks me. So my responses are absolutely unchecked, unrehearsed and that is about my reactions.
Q: I have a theory here. You are an actor who is used to the big screen, but now your show Satyamev Jayate is on the small screen which catches everything. Do you think that this transition from the big to the small screen requires you to understand your relationship with the camera differently?
Khan: No, I don’t think so. In a show like this, I have to be myself. I cannot plan to be any other way, I cannot train myself to be any other way and I don’t want to. This is how I am.
I don’t know if everyone feels that way, I hope not. If a few people feel that I am acting, then I am afraid that I am not – what else can I say.
Q: I am going to read something to you that Farah Navvi, who is a gender and minority rights activist and member of the National Advisory Council wrote in The Hindu. She says “even as we seek to urgently end sex selective abortions, we need to simultaneously ensure that we do not create an environment that compromises our commitment to expanding safe, legal abortion services for all women. Populist rhetoric does not generate nuanced solutions.”
Khan: I don’t agree because I am not communicating to one person. I am very clear because this is where my capabilities lie. For 25 years I have been indulging in mass communication and I understand that when I am communicating to 1.2 billion people, hopefully, the more nuanced I get the less the people are going to understand what I am trying to say. So I am trying to get as nuanced as I can without losing the essence and the heart of what I am trying to say.
In mass communication, you have to be broader in your strokes, this is my belief which is why I am taking this approach. I am very aware of the fact that I do not want to at all hinder the choice of a woman to go in for an abortion, which is why we haven’t gone there at all. We haven’t even hinted to the fact that a woman doesn’t have a right to choice. Our words have been selected very carefully.
I am trying to get to the heart of the problem of sex selection and sex abortion and that is all we are concentrating on. Every statistic that I provide on the show is about the fact that how the number of girls in comparison to the number of boys is declining. So obviously the topic is that. Nowhere have I ever used language which would even mistakenly indicate that I am talking of curbing the rights of a woman for her choice of having a baby or not.
Q: These were issues that came up in your planning for the program.
Khan: Absolutely. In our discussion we discussed about it. We even discussed going down the path of saying what rights women have, but I didn’t want to deviate from my topic. I don’t want people to at all be confused about the one issue that I am pinpointing. In this case it is selection of the female child and aborting a female child, because it happens to be a female child and I don’t want to shift from that.
Similarly when it is child sexual abuse, we are sticking to that, we are not deviating from that. When it’s healthcare, we are sticking to that, we are not deviating from that. We even choose within healthcare because it is complicated. So I am choosing what are the two or three main themes that I am going to communicate in that short span of one and half hour. There is a choice I am making and I am very clear about what my choice is and I stand by it.
Q: How do you assess what you have done so far?
Khan: I assess it based on reactions I get from people. I also assess it by the kind of reaction I am getting from administration. I find it very encouraging and positive to see Mr. Ashok Gehlot respond so quickly.
Q: The Chief Justice of Rajasthan has said that they will setup a fast track court to deal with the female feticide case.
Khan: He could have told me we are working on it and we are thinking about it. I would have sent him a couple of more letters beyond which I can’t. I am saying that he has been proactive and that is very encouraging.
If you look at even the newspapers today and the last few weeks that I have been reading, since our first episode of female feticide came there have been in various states Maharashtra included a lot of action by the administration in clamping down on illegal activities and that’s so encouraging to see. On a certain level what we are doing is very journalistic.
Q: A lot of journalists would say we wish we had started our careers as actors and become big stars so we could get this audience and support. You know that, journalists are dying with envy. I am going to say I wish I had this show.
Khan: My research team and field team are all journalists, so they are the people who have actually done the work. Let me add that there a huge number of journalists who have already done this work. A lot of our case studies have come from, these are not fresh cases.
Q: Fair enough. This is what has been reported.
Khan: This has already been reported. For example, Manoj and Babli has been reported, Rizwan has been reported, Harish Iyer has been reported. So these are not fresh cases that we are taking up.
Q: So you owe this show to the journalists?
Khan: Absolutely. Activists and journalists working in this field for so many years have helped us get material together. What we have done is we have taken all that material and assessed it ourselves and made sure that we are happy with what we are now going to project. We then give it a form which is as close to storytelling as possible. So we have tried to keep the drama in a topic of how I am bringing it out to you.
Q: Going forward, how would you like this theme to get sustained? How will you start evaluating whether there is change?
Khan: There are three things that we are hoping to achieve. What we believe is that information and knowledge will alter the way you act. If I were to tell you that in the next 2-3 minutes lightening is going to strike where you are sitting, armed with that information and knowledge you would move from there. So information and knowledge will change your actions. We are hoping that information and knowledge about an issue will change the way people act in their lives vis-à-vis their issue, that is one.
Secondly we are trying to bring about in people an ability to look inward. So while we are questioning maybe the government or various people, we are also encouraging people to look inward and to see whether they feel that am I a part of the problem. I want to look inward myself and encourage people to look inward. I believe that when each one of us looks inward, the solution lies within us and if I only concentrate on improving myself and each one of us does that, that brings about a big change collectively.
The third thing we are trying to do is we are trying to place before people solutions. These solutions are not solutions that necessarily me and my team have found, but these are solutions that the other people have found and we are showcasing these solutions.
Watch the accompanying videos for the full show..