A movie star makes India confront its taboos
FILE-In this Feb. 9, 2012 file photo, Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, third left, arrives at his hotel in Srinagar, Kashmir, India. Bollywood megastar Khan is making India confront its dark side. Shining light on inequities like the rampant abortion of female fetuses, caste discrimination and the slaying of brides in dowry disputes, actor Khan has reached an estimated one-third of the country with a new TV talk show "Satyamev Jayate", or "Truth Alone Prevails," that tackles persistent flaws of modern India that most of its citizens would prefer to ignore.(AP Photo/Javed Ahmad, File)
NEW DELHI (AP) — A Bollywood megastar is making India confront its dark side.
Shining light on inequities like the rampant abortion of female fetuses, caste discrimination and the slaying of brides in dowry disputes, actor Aamir Khan has reached an estimated one-third of the country with a TV talk show that tackles persistent flaws of modern India that many of its citizens would prefer to ignore.
"Satyamev Jayate", or "Truth Alone Prevails," is a clever blend of hard news and raw emotional appeal — part "60 Minutes," part Oprah Winfrey. Its influence has even prodded the notoriously lethargic government machinery into action, though it's too soon to know what policy changes may be in the works.
After an episode exposed rampant medical malpractice and championed giving cheap, generic medicine to millions of India's poor, Khan was invited to address a Parliament hearing on health care.
Indians haven't seen anything quite like this. Hard-hitting talk shows are rare and certainly none has acquired even a fraction of the popularity and buzz Khan's has generated since it debuted 11 weeks ago. And Bollywood superstars have ventured into television only to host glitzy game or reality shows.
For many middle-class Indians — comfortable in their belief that their country had moved beyond most of these problems — Khan's show has been a gut-wrenching and poignant dose of bitter reality.
"Definitely it's reminding people that there are problems within our society," said Narendra Kumar, an environmental researcher in New Delhi. "It's also creating discussions and sometimes helping people find solutions to the problems."
The show forced Paromita Dey to confront an act she had tried to bury.
Four years ago, Dey and her husband Souporno — already parents to a teenage daughter — ended a pregnancy because she was carrying another girl. Like millions of Indian families, they wanted a son.
In the opening episode of Khan's program in May, Ameesha Yagnik haltingly recalled how her husband forced her to abort six female fetuses in eight years. How he threw her out of the house but refused to let her meet her infant daughter for months until she agreed to divorce him.
Both Khan and his audience were in tears.
So were the Deys when they watched the show.
"Yes, I killed my baby because she was a girl," a shaken Paromita Dey said, sitting in her home in a posh neighborhood in the northern city of Lucknow.
That India's highly skewed gender ratio is a cause for concern isn't new. Census after census has revealed that fewer and fewer girls are being born, despite strict laws against sex-selective abortions and a slew of failed government incentives and programs.
Yet Khan's show created such an outpouring of outrage that the government of the western state of Rajasthan, with one of the worst gender ratios, promised action, and a village head there formed a committee to check against the practice.
"It's both ironic and amusing that it took an actor from Bollywood to shine a light on the yawning gaps in Indian journalism," political commentator Tavleen Singh wrote in a recent column.
The show has done "what us hacks should have been doing over and over again," she wrote.
Khan, 47, began his career in Bollywood as a romantic hero in the late 1980s. But over the last decade he has broken new ground in Bollywood, fashioning a career path combining the social consciousness of George Clooney with the hero appeal of Tom Cruise.