Zainab: Hello everyone. I’m Zainab Salbiand I have the great honorof being on stage with the India’s greatest movie star, Aamir Khan. I mean we are talking beyond the actions moviesof James Bond and Daniel Craig. We are talking beyond the romances of RichardGere. We are talking beyond the charms of GeorgeClooney, we are talking, ladies and gentlemen, above and beyond, all of that.
A man who has been acting since the age ofnine, a man who has conquered the hearts of six hundred million, yes, six hundred millionIndians. This is half of the Indian population. This man has done it. Unbelievable! And in 2012 he surprises India, he surprisesthe world, with launching a new TV talk show, Satyamev Jate, Jayate, that tackles socialissues, taboos heads-on, I mean you just put yourself out there.
What inspired you to do that?” Aamir: Well, a big good evening to everyonehere. I think it started somewhere when I was avery small child and it began with my mother, I think. Ahh, my mother’s been a big influence on meand uh, I’ll narrate an incident of my life which stayed with me all along and that’sI used to play a lot of tennis when I was a kid and competitive tennis, you know, statelevel, national level.
I was pretty good at that time and she knewhow anxious I was about the game, how much I loved the game. And every time I had a match, she’d be waitingfor me to come home and when I would come home she’d ask me: “Did you win, did you lose?” Usually I would win, so my answer would be:”I won”.
And then after about five minutes, the firsttime she did it, it really shook me. After about five minutes she’d come to meand say: “You know the boy who lost to you today, he would have reached home about nowand his mom would have asked him the same question and he would have said, he lost,so his mother must be feeling really bad right now.” And the first time she said that to me, itlike really hit me.
I mean her ability to think for another, amother she’s never seen, never met, really hit home to me. I don’t think she was meaning to tell me orteach me anything, that’s just how she is and I think a lot of what I am is, it is aresult of her. Uh, I think the second person who’s had beena big influence with me, is my friend Satyajit Bhatkal who happens to be the director ofthe show. Satyajit and I went to school together. He was a topper in the class, I was the back-bencherand he was brilliant, so he had the world at his feet, he could do what he wanted, butafter we passed out, he decided to work for other people.
So he didn’t become an engineer, or a doctoror a chartered accountant, which he could have been or an MBA or whatever he wanted. He decided to spend his life, you know, workingfor people who are less privileged than he was. I got into films and gone into acting andmy career took off and I was — So each time I would meet him, I’d feel really guilty. Uh, I mean, I wasn’t doing anything wrong.
I was doing what I loved doing, but everytime I met him, I used to feel: “Man, this guy is living for others” and I’m — I wishI could do half of what he’s doing and that kept troubling me. So I think a lot of all finally resulted inwhat happened as SMJ – Satyamev Jayate. Television also grew strong in India at thattime and I reached a point in my career, where I had earned a fair amount of goodwill andI kept
thinking that, “How can I contribute?” You know, you wake up in the morning, yourread the papers and you read about injustice. You read about poverty, you read about peoplewho are less privileged than you and you want to really do something about it I think most of us feel that way and we don’tknow what to do and I felt that for a number of years and then I realized that I shoulddo what I know best and — which is storytelling and I should use the strength of storytellingto try and change minds in trying, you know, enrich perhaps the discussion on certain issuesthat we face as a society. And I’ve saw that no one’s really doing iton that kind of a scale on a public platform, and I thought if I combine the strength ofTV with the goodwill that I’ve earned and we try and actually combine journalism,
investigativejournalism and storytelling. So we would really research each topic andthen bring it to the country of India and share what we have learned with the people,and hope that we can transform minds, hearts. You know, I’ve always felt that there aretwo ways of bringing about change. One is top-down; when you make laws and youtell people to follow them. Now you make policies and you expect peopleto follow them and the other way. Sometimes is works but sometimes, a lot oftimes, it doesn’t. I
think the other way is a longer route, butI think that is what we have chosen to do and that is to reach out to people’s hearts. Not with anger but with love, and you knowtry and transform minds at young age. Female Feticide Zainab: Now that was your first show. That is not an easy topic. What triggered you to choose this one? Aamir: Well, oh, well I’m not quite surewhy we chose this one in particular, but I felt
that initially we had researched fourtopics. One was female feticide and one was publichealth. The other was child sexual abuse and so forsome reason I think we instinctively stuck with female feticide as a first episode. I also feel it – somewhere it is, it’sa huge problem in India first of all, and it also connects with people on a very gutlevel. We chose to put the show forward, not as awoman’s problem, but as a mother’s problem. You see, what we try to do is, when we getthe information that we have, we try and put it to people in a manner that gets them emotionally.
So I don’t start the show by saying youknow: “Today we gonna talk about female feticide….” I start the show by saying, you know, I’veasked people, “who the most important person in their lives is”, and usually people saymy mother and I feel the same and talk about motherhood and get people into a certain emotionalstate and then I say: “Let’s take a look at how we’re treating our mothers today”and we meet our first guest, who is a mother, who’s been through eight abortions in sixyears.
Forced abortions by her mother and in-lawsand husband and so when you’re looking at her and hearing her story, you’re lookingat a mother and what a mother goes through and then of course what a woman goes throughwhen she’s, you know, forced to go through an abortion. So I think that kind of, really caught people.
You know, the first episode itself, has avery strong emotional connect, is what we felt and that’s why we chose female feticideas a first episode, And you’ll be happy to know that, you know,in 2011 was when the episode aired and before that the senses that was carried out, hada certain number, that was the national average was 914 girl child, against 1000 boys bornevery year and it was sliding.
Sliding alarmingly and certain states likeRajasthan and other states, Maharashtra, were very bad. Eight hundred and ninety, eight hundred andeighty, you know, per thousand boys. You’ll be pleased to know that these twostate have revealed their numbers today, after three years. Rajasthan and Maharashtra, and in both therestates the ratio has gone up by fifty to sixty points.
So it’s now around 950 to thousand boys. And I believe it’s a combination of theshow, which is reaching out to millions of people and talking to them, you know, emotionallyand it’s also the governments, the Rajasthan government and the state government of Maharashtrareally acted very, very dynamically and it’s a result of all this, I think, and peopleactually reacting to it and deciding that they don’t want to do this anymore, a lotof them. Zainab: Now, it is illegal in India? Aamir: Well, abortion is legal, but sex
selectiveabortion is illegal and that itself is strange. I mean, in the U.S. I don’t think thereis a law, in which, you can ask your doctor what the sex of the baby is going to be, becausein the U.S. the doctor doesn’t expect you to go and abort the child if it is a girl. So you don’t need a law over here whichtells you that.
So in India we have a law where you cannotask the doctor what the sex of the child is and the doctor is not allowed to tell you,so both the doctor and the parents could be in jail if they ask the question and thatquestion is answered. Now this law is actually — it tells us whatwe are. This law is needed for us, unfortunately,otherwise, you know, in other societies you don’t need this as a law.
Zainab: Usually you celebrate: “I have agirl!” Aamir: Yeah, there’s another law we havein India, where, where, as a criminal you can’t stand for elections. You need a law for that. I mean, it’s sad. What I’m saying is sad, you know, it’slike black humor.
If a criminal stands for elections anywherein the world he won’t get a single vote, but in India we have to have a law, becauseas Indians we’ve, in the past, seen that we do end up voting for criminals. So we need to have a law which tells us you,you know, you can’t stand for elections if you are a criminal. So, you see, these laws actually tell us alot about what we are. Dowry Issues Aamir: Contextualize it for
people who livehere in the U.S. I would imagine about 90 to 95% of people in India have either givendowry or taken dowry or both. So when you are communicating to the hugemajority of the country and telling them that what they have been indulging in, perhapsis not the best thing to do and most probably the TV that they are watching your show on,has also come in dowry. So you, you have to –
which is, which isso important for us to communicate this with love and we had this discussion very earlyon with the core team I said: “Why are we – with what drivingemotion are we doing this show? Are we doing this show in anger, because thenour conversation is different and I’m not doing this with anger, I’m doing this withlove, because I really that only with love can you actually, you know, affect a
personand bring about change. There is so many things that we need to andthat we have to look inward and I’m included in that. I’m not excluded in that we need to lookinward, you know, at ourselves. Zainab: But did it make people uncomfortablethat you touched on these very – I mean how did they respond? Aamir: Well, you know, by and large the hugemajority – the very positive thing that I want to
tell you, is that the huge majorityof Indians just loved the show and that speaks a lot for what is India is today. It speaks a lot for the fact that India wantsto change. India is ready for change. I mean, I would have imagined, none of ushad imagined a show which is speaking such heavy topics, would be so popular across thecountry and the fact that is so popular, really speaks well for us as Indians today.
That we have issues that we have problemsbut we want to leave them behind, we want to come out of them and we really want tomove ahead and improve ourselves. I think that’s what the success of the showtells us.
Zainab: Has there like – how do you comeup about choosing the subjects? I mean… Aamir: We have a lot of fights. Zainab: And I mean are there subjects whereyou say “we’re not going to touch that”? Aamir: No, so far, that’s never been thecase. We’ve picked really difficult topics aswell. On of a really difficult topics was untouchability,which is a big issue in India.
The constitution of our country says thatwe are all equal, but in reality that’s not so yet. It’s a journey that we have to – it’sstill a journey that we are on the reach there. Sure equality is an issue in a lot of societies,but I think in India, because of the way the caste system is, it just makes it a lot morecomplicated. So – and that’s a very touchy topic aswell.
It’s a topic that people feel very emotionallyabout, so, so – and 15% of India, roughly 15% of India is Dalits, which is the untouchablecaste and so therefore 85% is not Dalits and we are communicating with 85% of country. Speaking to them about – I mean are we…what are we doing? What we doing is it right, is it, are we comfortablewith it, you know, so.
Zainab: So how did you go about that? Aamir: Well, I, mean in all our shows, inall our topics we’re just honest, but we do it with a lot of love. We do it with a lot of love, so that people… Let me say this much that while the majorityof the people have loved our show, there has been a minority, probably in every topic,that doesn’t like us.
Like there is a couple of men’s organizationswhich hate me. They keep writing to me emails about men’sproblems and why don’t you take up men’s problems. So we did in fact in our laste season pickedup masculinity.
What is, what is it to be male? Because we figured that, unless we, unlesswe relook at and hopefully redefine what a man is, you know, things are not going tochange. So, woman have, you know, woman have changed,woman are changing, but, but men don’t manage to change by and large. By and large we’ve done a lot.
So we thought we’d look at what is a realman. Is a real man someone who goes and beats uppeople? Is a real man a person who is a protector,is he the guy who’s going to, you know, so what’s a real man? I mean we strongly feel that we have to, fromthe time that the child is born, you have to treat both children equally, whether itis a boy or a girl and you have to allow the boy child to cry.
You have to allow him to cry, because thefirst thing they tell a boy when he cries, “Don’t cry. Are you a girl, why are you crying?” So he grows up feeling that I’m not supposedto cry and when you tell a child not to cry, you are actually removing him further andfurther away from his emotions.
He’s feeling something and you are not allowinghim to feel that. So you are distancing him from his emotionsand then you are surprised why he’s beating up his wife, because he actually, the factthat when you, you tell the child that it is perfectly alright to cry, it’s perfectlyalright to feel terrible, it’s perfectly alright to feel scared. Most boys are told, “Hey, you can’t feelscares, you’re a boy”, “are you scared of the dark”, “come on, go on, go to theroof alone”, you know. So boys feel scared and wê have to tell thatsmall child of four that it’s alright to be scared, you know, and so that boys cangrow up more sensitive. Right now we are creating boys, or we meanwe are working to creating boys WHO grow up to be insensitive.
When Masculinity Harms Men Aamir: There’s a portion of the show, which,in which I am told by another man, he says that, you know, in India real men don’tcry and real men don’t hold their wives hands. The wife walks two, three feet behind. Now, you must understand, India is a largecountry, so, and I’m saying this, don’t take this literally, this is mostly in ruralIndia and there are, there are a lot of extremely progressive people in India as well, so Idon’t want to give you the wrong impression, but this is an issue.
There are villages in India, in rural India,where this is the believe, this is how they’ve grown up. So, on the show, I did say, I said, you knowbased on all of these definition of what a real man is, I’m completely not a real man,because I hold my wife’s hand all the time, I hug my children. You’re not supposed to hug your children,you not supposed to show affection to your child, as a male – a true male. So, I hug my children all the time, I cryall the time. I was crying just before I entered to thestage. Zainab: True, it is true, yes.
We were both crying actually. Aamir: I was listening to, what’s her nameCeyda? I was listening to her speak and I was intears, so I cry all the time. Zainab: Have you cried on movies, on TV? Aamir: On TV, on TV every episode of mine,yeah. Zainab: Excellent. Aamir: Not a single episode goes by that Idon’t cry and it’s not even during the show itself. It is even when I’m researching it. You know, when you are researching these topics,it takes days for us to go through all the material we collect and invariably in
everytopic that we’ve picked, we go through, we go, we get to a point where me and Satyaand Swati and all of us get so disheartened. I’m looking at an interview and I’m weepingand we kind of shut it off and be like, you know, why are we doing this? Nothing’s going to change. You suddenly feel very disheartened, but thenyou come across a person who is working in that and has got so much strength
and so muchresilience, so much grace and such dignity, that it brings you back to your feet. You know. In these five years that I have researchedSatyamev Jayate, I’ve seen the worst in mankind, and I’ve seen the best, the mostbeautiful in mankind. I’ve come across people who are such amazingand inspirational people.
You know, I spoke to this lady whose son hadbeen murdered in. His, her son had got married to a girl froma different religion and so it is an honor killing. This lady spoke with such dignity and suchgrace and with such forgiveness in her heart, I just couldn’t get over it, you know. Itwas such, it was so amazing to listen to her speech. She’s talking about her son being killedand, you know, I don’t know
where she finds her strength from, to still look for love,you know, in in people. I was speaking to these two women, we oftenassume in India that woman who are from rural India, are uneducated and therefore not asstrong as woman from cities, etcetera, etcetera. So, these two woman who, in the same episodewere of honor killings, the one woman’s son and the other woman’s brother was killedand they were ostracized from the village. They were targeted, they were not given – theywere not sold anything. Nobody spoke to them in the village. So the ashes are taken in what is called aKalash, like a pot, that pot was not sold to them. That’s the kind of segregation they facedin the village and then they did a police
complaint of all of that, so the case wasgoing on. They were threatened, they were offered money,there was political pressure put on them. Every kind of pressure was put on them, butthey didn’t take the case back and they fought the case and they won the case andthose men are now convicted. Now, what I’m going to say here, is thatthese two woman are from a small village in India and the kind of courage they show ina city like Mumbai, when a political party announces that tomorrow is Mumbai Bandh,
whichmeans, nobody dare go out of the house, we are going to stone every car that goes out. There’s some kind of protest that they aredoing, nobody leaves the house. In a city like Mumbai, which is a large city,nobody even knows who I am. We are all strangers in the city, but youare frightened to step out of the house, because someone has announced that we can’t. Here are these two ladies, specifically
targeted. They’re still staying in the same villageand they still have the courage to stand up and say: “No, we don’t want money. We want justice” Where did they get thiscourage from? It’s really amazing. I’ve met such wonderful people in this journeyof five years. Wrestling Movie Dangal Zainab: It’s hard to sort of escape thefact that you lost weight or gained weight and you sort of were thinner in here. I’m saying it because you’re in a movieright now. You’re in the midst of shooting a movie. Aamir: I’m actually, I’m
actually gettingready for this film that I’m playing of older man, who’san ex-wrestler. So I’m putting on a lot of weight, whichis fun. Zainab: But has it changed your, has it changedyour choices of stories as a star, as a movie star? Aamir: Not really.
I would not say it has changed my choicesas an actor, but quite naturally I get attracted to films because of who I am, so this filmthat I’m doing is called “Dangal”, which means wrestling and it’s a storie aboutthis wrestler, who has a dream to win this gold medal, an international gold for hiscountry.
He can’t fulfil his dream because he doesn’thave money, he has to give up wrestling and so he decides that his son will fulfil hisdream and then he proceeds to have four daughters in the next 15 years.
So the story is about his daughter fulfilshis dream. Zainab: Exactly. Well Aamir, you could have easily have restedand be in the limelight and yet you took, I mean with courage and integrity and withlove and inspiration, you just went ahead and inspired, you know, half of India’spopulation. This is a huge deal and inspiring all of ushere in America.
So, chapeau to you and good luck, keep going. We are all behind you, thank you so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you!