Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Land Of Questions

Mr Aamir Khan, whose recent output ranges all the way from Mangal Pandey to Dil Chahta Hai, has often been hailed as a genius because of the quality of his work. His consistency in hitting the bull’s eye over and over again, by making films which connects with the nation, has been heralded unanimously. It seems like the man only goes from height to height: if being a part of Indian cinema’s biggest success story, 3 Idiots, wasn’t enough, he is now making people all over the country weep every Sunday through Satyamev Jayate.

Obviously, I have a slightly different take.

Mr Khan’s success has nothing to do with quality of the output: if quality work was the only criteria, we would not have witnessed Aamir Khan in Sunny Deol mode in that woeful remake, Ghajini. And like I have done over the past decade, I will continue to pretend that films like Fanaa and Mela do not exist.

The reason he seems to be so unerringly consistent is because of an altogether different – and in these marketing-heavy times, perhaps more important – reason: his razor-sharp understanding of the Indian audience.

He understands that the Indian audience is a particularly emotional one. Indian films are the only thing, besides cricket, that provide our people with a collective, common conscious – one which allows us to both take out or frustrations, as well be inspired to carry on with our daily struggles. Hence, his films always deliver on the emotional quota: they’ll make you laugh, they’ll make you cry, and, crucially, they’ll make you think an important point has been raised.
That is the fulcrum of his success.

Examine the spread of issues he has dealt with in the recent past: the faulty Indian education system (3 Idiots), the faulty Indian media (Peepli Live), the faulty parenting styles (Taare Zameen Par – let’s face it, more than dyslexia per se, it was a film urging you not to force kids to conform) and now the many faulty things in our country. In each of these, he has made a point about how wrong things around us are. And we, burdened with the unimaginable weight of survival in our country as well as the stifling inability to do anything about our problems, have vigorously nodded in agreement. In the process, Aamir Khan has been hailed as a genius for the ‘insightful’ manner in which he confronts us with ‘uncomfortable’ questions.

Yes, he is certainly a genius – but of an entirely different kind. He is a genius because he has understood a peculiarly idiotic thing about us: we seek neither insight, nor discomfort. We like affordable, comfortable revolutions, ones which demand nothing more from us than to murmur outrage. While we are smart enough to understand our issues and start uproar over injustice, we are too lazy and near-sighted to seek a resolution. To us, the uproar is the resolution. Once an issue has been raised, we are content to mull over it, express our agreement, voice our conviction that something must be done, and then patiently wait for the next issue to be raised. Brought up in a country where we continuously rely on others to solve our problems, not one of us notices that we have conveniently skipped over the resolution.

Think about it yourself: in which of the afore-mentioned works has he ever provided a viable, practical solution? No. But has that lack of a possible way out being shown ever disturbed us? Not at all – seeking solutions is not a part of our nature, and he knows that. He knows that we are content that someone has raised the question. The more populist and obvious the issue, the more we appreciate it. Honestly – did we need Aamir Khan to convince us that there are faults in the Indian education system, or that dowry is a widespread disease? What we needed was information on how to change – something that is unavailable. And I’m sorry – it is a ridiculous argument to say that at least someone has raised the question. These questions have always been raised, standing tall and erect in our hazy collective conscience, always relegated to the distant horizon, where they will be promptly returned to once we find a newer question.

We are worse than armchair activists – we are philosophical hypochondriacs. We love discussing all the things that plague us, but somewhere are morbidly afraid of finding a solution. Which is why films like Swades and Yuva, which have offered semi-practical solutions to our national problems, never work here. And Aamir Khan, the ambassador of psudo-transformation, has understood this better than anyone. Aamir Khan is simply the man who looks at his neighbor and says that the streets are too dirty. He is never going to pick up a broom – and neither are we, so we nod in agreement, convinced that having nodded, our part in this revolution is complete.


nivedita said...

You amaze me every day with your thoughts. You did not disappoint me this time either.

nivedita said...

Your mind is a strange jungle!

Esha Jaggi said...

I'm impressed! This is brilliant writing :)

Esha Jaggi said...

I'm impressed! This is brilliant writing!

Siddhant Lahiri said...

@Jaggi: Thanks! Hope all's well with you!

Neeraj said...

I agree with few things and disagree with many...rather than what I exactly disagree with I will just be vague...none the less interesting point of view and that's what matters :)

Siddhant Lahiri said...

@Neeraj: I can live with a 'few things'. ;-) Thanks, sir!

Bacterium said...

his camera is his broom. time we picked ours up too :)

Namit said...

his camera is his broom! hope we pick ours too :)

kapvarun said...

I am not going to say that at least someone is voicing out these problems at a much bigger platform.

Using his own popularity to reach masses, merely to raise issues,is not an attempt to further raise his popularity. But this is also not my argument.

My point is the fact that like issues(dowry,corruption etc) are known to everybody, so are the solutions. They are also pretty much straightforward.

Nor i,you or Aamir Khan have the balls to do anything for these problems. If he is using TV as a medium to highlight the issues, you are using blogs by criticize him.

None of us can do the real actionable thing because it is just too damn hard to do.It is so hard that it borders on being impractical.

And when we say that at least someone is raising the questions, we acknowledge the fact that we can't even do the same.

All of this aside,the writing was indeed brilliant. A career in journalism is not too far. It will involve the scope of raising many more pertinent questions.

Vivek aka VVK said...

Mr. Lahiri: why don't you just appreciate with someone's effort of making a difference...sorry but I never knew Pesticides were such a big problem and like me, so many Indians. At least he is putting an effort...and I am hurt that you have placed Swades and Mela in the same league...Stop, putting few nice words together and do something which will serve the society ;)

kapvarun said...

I will not say that at least someone is standing up for these issues.
I will also not say that he is using his popularity merely to make the larger masses aware of the issues.

But i will say this: You rightly mentioned that the problems like dowry,corruption etc are known to everybody.I say the solutions to each and everyone of them are also known to everybody. Its not a rocket science question that we are dealing with.

The truth is that you,me or Aamir khan don't have the balls to do the real actionable thing. And the reason for this is that the solutions are so fucking hard to implement in today's time, that they border on being impractical.

If he's using a medium like TV to highlight the issues, you are using internet to only criticize him. I am sorry but i don't see any difference.

You, me, him or anybody else can only point to the garbage on the street because cleaning the garbage is not an option anymore.

All of this aside, i think the writing was indeed brilliant. You can make a career in journalism. And that will provide a scope of raising many more questions.

Ananya said...

I used to feel something similar when I first heard abt the show... Have never seen it, but after my initial reactions to it, I sort of forgot abt it. Then when reading your blog, I was abt to say something to the effect of "I think so too" but by the time I got to the end of the comments, I had a new thought running through my mind... Don't you sometimes feel that it's become "populist" to be the naysayer? I feel (and this is true of me at least if not anyone else) is that we have become cynical enough to an extent where our knee jerk reaction is to be negative to anything new that doesn't get immediate results... Just a thought...

Coming to your post in hand, whether his show is effective or not is I guess a topic subject to mixed opinion. I don't particularly think Aamir deserves such a lot of accolades for it. And yes such programming/articles do only temporarily stir public 'guilt' (not consciousness)... BUT, I think that some credit is due to the ppl who research the show and who make the effort to learn abt groups working in that area of social development. Also, there ARE indiviiduals who're trying to make a difference at the ground level... So by showcasing them on national TV, not only are you bolstering their self respect and pride but also giving them respectability and less resistance from the community, if only marginally. So if someone is working to stop female foeticide, and appears on national TV (this comes on DD as welll right?), then if she were to go to a new family to convince them against sex determination, she may have marginally more clout than before. Besides, all these things take time!

Finally, as a lay person, I might forget abt the issue after a while, but if I were to have to experience something like say bribery or dowry or female foeticide, what I saw/read earlier may rankle my consciousness and cause me some hesitation before doing something like that.

tyrooed said...

you are a brilliant writer with a point of view...specially agree with you that movies like Swades and Yuva who have at least attempted to provide a solution and a point of view were not acknowledged as much as the marketed Amir Khan flicks..but personally we all know that he is out their to make the process he has picked up a few issues and is at least making people talk and families discuss over a cup of coffee..he is for sure making people have a mindset instead of just being told by respective(across states) parents that the old ill cultured regimens and rules should compulsively be followed..that being brought up as a national issue sure helps the few who are subdugated by the societal norms and are suppresed from forming an opinion against wrong..

rajeevanair nair said...

"they’ll make you laugh, they’ll make you cry, and, crucially, they’ll make you think an important point has been raised.
That is the fulcrum of his success. "

It's very easy to do this is it?

And you have completely discounted the effort that he puts behind each of his characters.

The point that you tried to make towards the end, 'The Armchair Activism', hits the bull's eye, but the way you chose to state that - that is by denouncing Aamir's work, wholesomely - is, I think, uncalled for.

Discussions and Debates are very important democratic tools and it's an imperative to equip citizens to make informed political decisions. When someone is using his popularity to impel such discussions, it's unfortunate that we see that, too, with scepticism.