Aamir and his lets-change-India blockbuster bowed out last Sunday, even as the channel let everyone know there would be a sequel. It has been the most talked about non fiction programme since Kaun Banega Crorepati a decade ago. Star’s PR outreach would have us believe that it actually helped to change things on the ground where some of the country’s horrendous social evils are concerned. While Aamir did well –publicised follow ups with chief ministers and so on, the channel used social media to both create and measure response.
So what should we conclude in the wake of Satyamev Jayate about the power of television to focus attention on issues? Or about the durability of the impact it can have on entrenched social evils?
Simulcast on nine channels, the show reached 49 crore viewers (Cumulative number for the ten episodes covered in the TAM research). who responded through various social media channels. One billion digital impressions, recorded by Persistent Systems, Amir and Star’s 1000+, ‘Big Data’ team of analysts based in Pune. These were aggregated from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube and SMJ’s online discussion forum.
From their responses, it was clear that these viewers wanted to be part of this historic show, record their feedback, share a cause and strike a chord with their favourite star. Especially one who spoke in a familiar idiom and took them on a roller-coaster ride, while prodding them on their deeply-held fears and misguided practices.
At one level watching the show seems to have been cathartic for viewers. Khan’s empathetic, soft-handed approach made us share our guilt and feel remorse but did not cripple us with grief over those aborted foetuses. What it also did was to get people talking on issues that have always been around.
Star claims that the show demonstrated the power of content to inspire conversations. They say it consistently ranked as the No.#1 trend on the mirco blogging site Twitter and that change remained unchanged even 24 hours after the telecast, implying that the SMJ impact did not wane, as easily as with other fads and trends.
Jonathan Dotan, a digital media expert, who is assisting Amir’s and Star’s research teams of over 300 stringers and journalists spread out in the country, underscores the nature of the response. “There are stories, and more stories pouring in. Deeply personal stories and shocking slices of life,” he told this correspondent. These me-too stories that he shared over e-mail later, at times, come across as a collective chest-beating -- for which social media with its unlimited space undoubtedly offers the perfect platform.
What has changed with SMJ
A careful examination of the voluminous data reveals that what has changed with SMJ in the context of non-fiction programming is the establishment of a symbiotic relationship between electronic and digital media. While realty shows (also high on emotional drama) made connect with their audience through cell phones; the 13-episode SMJ series sparked a strong social media connect, with people using this media to share their intensely personal experiences. SMJ has established an Internet-TV connect in the same manner as reality shows established mobile-TV connect. Both relationships (Internet-TV and Mobile-TV) bind TV audiences on a deeply-felt emotive plane, which is a far cry from the cognitive relationship that was struck with the readers of the print medium.
In his selection of the subjects, in its format; in his treatment of those subjects; in the re-assembling of all various media forms and prior research; even in his careful section of the timing for the show – a quiet Sunday morning, instead of a more-rushed 9 pm, prime news slot – and in his statements to the press, Amir has been careful in presenting SMJ as an emotional – not as an intellectual feed.
He admits he has borrowed liberally from the published domain (He did not do that with Three Idiots and missed out on crediting Chetan Bhagat, who raised a terrible stink afterwards) but to give the showman his due, he does it with a flourish, down to the last song sequence, the waterworks et al, that only someone schooled in the Bollywood tradition can.
What was lacking in super cop Kiran Bedi’s ‘Aap Ki Kachehri” on Star Plus which was also based on real life stories of victims and disputants and attempted to straddle both public service programming and entertainment? The same degree of star power.
“Satyamev Jayate is not a product of market research or surveys; it is the outcome of passionate people coming together to tell compelling stories that our viewers want to engage with,” says Star CEO Uday Shankar. “It’s a leap in content innovation… It isn’t traditional entertainment. We wanted our viewers to relate with the show as much as we did. We wanted them to see it and feel it as we did,” says Shankar.
Fortunately for everyone connected with the show, SMJ has also shaken our usually apathetic social conscience. The handout Star proffers on episode by episode impact is both long and creative. After the opening episode on foeticide Aamir Khan followed up his show with a visit to the chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s home to present him a signature campaign against a medieval practice that’s contributed to the state’s alarmingly skewed sex ratio - 914 women to every 1,000 men, according to the 2011 census.
- The Chief Justice of Rajasthan High Court, Arun Mishra has agreed in principle to set-up fast track courts in Jaipur to expedite all cases on female foeticide.
- Licenses of over 64 medical clinics in Bhopal have been cancelled on the charge of running sex determination tests
- Maharashtra has registered 317 fresh cases against sonography centres found indulging in unauthorized sex determination tests. Besides, 27 doctors and four families have been convicted or fined under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act.
- Actor couple Ajay Devgn and Kajol has announce the making of a feature film on female infanticide, while Assamese film Me and My Sister based on the same subject has just got released in seven languages, across the country.
- The Maharashtra Medical Council (MMC) has expelled 13 doctors against whom cases have been filed under the Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act. The suspended doctors are gynaecologists and radiologists from Beed, Osmanabad, Jalgaon and Pune.
- Congress party leader in the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), Arvind Shinde has demanded to know why was the Pre-conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) cell in the state was disbanded in the first place.
- The Haryana Government has made it mandatory for pregnant women to get an ultrasound only upon submitting an identity proof. This is meant to keep tabs over illegal abortions. The state government is also toying with the idea of embedding observer chips in every ultrasound device sold in the state.
- In Madhya Pradesh licenses of 65 clinics were cancelled for not submitting final report on cases of Medical Termination of Pregnancy.
- In Bihar, health minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey undertook a 30-km tonga ride from Sultanganj to Bhagalpur to launch Bitiya Bachao Andolan (Save the Girl Child Movement) in the state. He has asked Amir Khan to endorse this scheme. and families opting for sex determination tests.
- women Sarpanch Randheer Singh of Budania village in Rajasthan has asked his community to register police cases against
That’s more than what similar shows in the past can claim, authorities in this country apparently respond with alacrity when a Bollywood star decides to turn catalyst.
After the second episode on child abuse the Rajya Sabha passed a pending gender-neutral Bill - Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill, 2011 for the protection of children against this kind of abuse. The channel chooses to take credit for that. Also, school principals in Pune have apparently begun to organize workshops on this sensitive subject for parents and younger children and made it part of their regular curriculum.
The two episodes that seem to have generated the most response from community and from authorities at various levels are the ones on foeticide and on medical malpractices. The biggest take-away from the latter show was the public awareness created over non-branded generic medicines. Suddenly, ‘generic medicines’ became a subject of drawing room discussions, although no one knew who retailed them, whether they were as effective and safe as their branded cousins. Nonetheless, as a consequence of SMJ’s third episode…
- A chain of generic medicine stores have sprung up in Maharashtra that would be affiliated to government-run hospitals. Independent stores stocking generic medicines will also be opened at various parts of the state.
- In an open letter addressed to the Indian Medical Association (IMA), the industry association of doctors, two voluntary organizations, the Medico Friend Circle (MFC) and the Forum for Medical Ethics Society (FMES) have sought IMA to self-regulate medical professionals with the active involvement of citizens in the healthcare delivery processes in order to ensure better quality service and protection of their patients' rights. The letter raised serious doubts about the practice of offering commissions to doctors’ by medical representatives of pharmaceutical companies; the irrationality in prescribing a slew of needless investigations and surgical procedures; and the ever inflating healthcare bills as a consequence of all these malpractices.
- The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in Rajasthan has booked five senior government officials for granting recognition to the nursing colleges that did not have adequate infrastructure or faculty for teaching medical college students. Senior administrative staff of five nursing colleges has also been booked under various sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
- Aamir Khan and his creative team have received an invitation to the Sansad Bhavan, where they will share their views on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the pharmaceutical sector.
- People for Better Treatment, a non-government organisation has rallied behind Aamir Khan and pledged to work towards cleaning the "rot" in the Indian healthcare delivery system.
- The episode on people with disability received the most response - some 9.98 lakh messages over mobile and the internet. Suddenly, Kapil Sibal, the Minister for Human Resource Development (HRD) directed his education department to study the depth of the problem faced by the disable community in India and make their recommendation to the government.
The episode on untouchability was followed by an abrupt spike in the percentage of responses received from Indian youth for the following tags- improper use of reservation system, lack of opportunities for general, and reservation system. Years after the Mandal Commission agitation, caste-based reservation remains an emotive/divisive issue with the Indian youth.
Another change that SMJ has brought about, and this could only be gauged through Twitter trends is that somewhere along the way, the issue managed to surpass the star. As #Amir slid on Twitter trends, #Childsexabuse, #Dowry, #ThingsDoctorsDo, #DontHateLove, #ForTheDisabled, #DomesticViolence, #WhatweEat and #AlchoholAbuse rode high. .
What has not changed
What did not change, and this may take several SMJ-copycats to do the trick, are some of our deep-embedded patriarchal values.
When Amir asked his audience after episode 5: “When two adults decide to marry and want to spend their lives together, does society or their families have the right to break the marriage or prevent it from happening through force?” – can you guess the answer?
Nearly 32 percent of Indians responded ‘yes.’
They feel families have the right to break-up a marriage.
If this is middle-India speaking (captured through SMSs), any surprise, that kangaroo courts in the form of khap panchayats still rule the roost in rural India?
Likewise, after episode 7, when Amir asked: “Is beating a woman, a sign of masculinity?” 13.4 % urban Indians voted ‘yes.’
Predictably, two episodes geared over 50% response from women viewers – child sexual abuse, weddings (dowry) and domestic violence.
The Indian youth’s ‘pot-boiler’ response to caste-based reservations was evident in their response to Episode 10 (Untouchability). There was a spike in the percentage of responses received from youth for the tags- improper use of reservation system, lack of opportunities for general, and reservation system.
The maximum outpouring came in response to Episode 6 (Disabled) – some 9.98 lakh messages.
While the Indian judiciary may rue the fact that media’s meddling into its business, SMJ viewers feel that media trials are good, if for nothing else, at least for speeding justice for the victim.
About the far-reaching impact of the show, Shankar says, “The intent of the show was to use the power and platform of television to drive change. This show has disrupted every convention of programming, format, delivery and marketing. The impact is not just in the awareness it has created or the lives it has changed, the greatest impact is the power of innovation to disrupt convention and rewrite the rules of the game."
Going forward, Amir undoubtedly has a lot of grist for the next Star series on SMJ impact. Unlike any other medium, the beauty of the digital medium that Amir and Star have employed in full measure is that produces voluminous data in real time, based on which a creative, market-savvy producer can twist and turn his plots to the viewers’ demands and make it a truly RoI-driven show, which is what Amir and Star may end up doing with their next series.
Meanwhile, reluctant to let go of its discovery of the saleability of inspirational programming, Star Plus will replace the show in the same slot next week with a series on real life stories of those who have made a difference.