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‘India’s women are key drivers of social change through TV’


New York, June 1 :

Women are the key drivers of positive social change in India through television, according to the executive behind one of the most profoundly influential shows in India, Satyamev Jayate or “Truth Alone Prevails”.

Hosted by superstar Aamir Khan on Star India, the weekly show has addressed some of India’s most sensitive social issues and taboos such as female foeticide, inter-caste marriage, child sex abuse and voting corruption.

Aamir Khan in Satyamev Jayate
Aamir Khan in Satyamev Jayate

The channel felt “India was now ready, our viewers were ready and internally Star as a company was ready, to take that big leap,” said Uday Shankar, CEO of Star India in a dialogue with Bobby Ghosh, Editor of Time International here Friday.

“We decided that we will sharply, in each episode focus on some of the things that must change in this country while all kinds of economic and social changes keep happening,” he said at the event hosted by the prestigious Paley Centre for Media.

Star India had targeted women initially as “the driver characters for change are women,” said Shankar. “They are the biggest ambassadors of change and proselytizers in their own context.”

On conceptualising “Satyamev Jayate” and its impact on society Shankar said: “Aamir and I spent a lot of time discussing and finally we concluded that we are not going to pull our punches, neither in the creative expression, nor in the format.”

“The sex ratio in India has been declining. The gap between female and male children has been rising,” he said.

“But for the first time in 40 years, it was reversed by a factor of 24:1000” in Maharashtra thanks to “Satyamev Jayate” episode on female foeticide.

The state government publicly acknowledged “that it was the impact of the show that gave women the confidence to resist abortion.”

Speaking about the kind of influence Star has had on women and society at large, Shankar cited the example of Smriti Irani, India’s new Human Resource Development minister.

Irani “was a 22 year old young woman who first appeared in public life on national television on Star Plus” in a key role on its popular show, “Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi” for nine years.

“She left that show and entered politics and today she is one of the senior most ministers in the Indian Government, he said, adding “that’s the kind of influence that it has had.”

Talking about the evolution of Star India, Shankar said: “Even though our pedigree is News Corporation and 21st Century Fox now, it was very clear that we were not bringing in American cultural concept into India.”

“We indigenised it completely because that was the only way,” he said. “We were told to go and create a business that was the right business for the Indian people and Indian society.”

On the power of media and television as a tool to influence society, Shankar said: “I always felt that when you’re in the business of media you are creating content whether news or entertainment to push social change.”

“At Star, we have now gone a step ahead and we believe that all content that we create is corporate social responsibility seriously.”