“The responsibility of a creative person is to bring grace to society, to build the social fabric of society, to infuse morals in people.” – Aamir Khan
Al Jazeera in its documentary film ‘Witness’ stated, “Aamir Khan, India’s highest grossing Bollywood star is aiming to change India’s attitude towards women. He is starting a television show ‘Satyamev Jayate’. The show airs chilling testimonies of rape victims on television.” Three seasons later, the show was taken off-air. The official reason for discontinuation of the television show was reported to be resource allocation for Paani Foundation which is an Aamir Khan led NGO. Mr. Khan’s show ‘Satyamev Jayate’ and his opinion on the cases he came across in the show led him to publicly state that India is not a safe place for people because of crime and its reportage. After the comment made by Mr. Khan, people burned effigies of him on the streets and political representatives commented, “I think he (Mr. Khan) made the statement under the influence of foreign powers or the powers from Dubai that support his films. He should leave the country and the government should give him a free Air India ticket.”
“I have played so many roles. I have been acting for 25 years and have done about 40 or 45 films. Films do have a significant impact on people. The way we show women or the way we show men (in movies) is unfortunately not very nice. Bollywood reinforces these bad values. So young kids watching all of this believe that this is how a male should be, this is how a male should behave… true male does not take ‘No’ for an answer.” – Aamir Khan
In ‘Witness’, Mr. Khan stated that places like Delhi are unsafe for women and he would feel worried if a woman he knew is out of home after dark. As a responsible citizen, he felt that he ought to do something about the prevailing conditions. The co-director of the television show Svati Bhatkal commented, “Satyamev Jayate was ground breaking in a sense that it brought very uncomfortable questions into the drawing room. Misogyny, sexual assault, lack of access to education… vicious things like dowry, women being burned to death, rape, gang rape… justice is very far away.”
Apart from Aamir Khan, there are other celebrities from the Indian film industry who advocated social causes by leveraging their fame and influence. Farhan Akhtar’s MARD (Men against Rape and Discrimination) is an NGO that promotes gender equality and healthy mindsets for creating a gender just society. Other Bollywood celebrities have been seen promoting more balanced ecology, humanity towards animals, organ donation and aid for people adversely impacted by natural disasters.
Aamir Khan in comparison did foray courageously to talk on issues that many people – celebrities or otherwise, shirk from. He faced a lot of pushback when social causes and gender discourse touched upon pertinent issues boldly. The demise of conscientious, intellectual and democratic voice of the country is something none of us can afford upon us. While working on many social issues by using wealth, fame and influence is a great idea; it is equally important to exercise freedom of expression and keep it away from religion and politics. Now that is something to aspire for.