Aamir Khan, the Bollywood superstar widely acclaimed for his work was recently in Delhi in relation to one of the episodes of his show Satyamev Jayate. This particular episode dealt with the homosexual and transgendered community in India. Post the show, our writers Ishika Gupta and Priyanka Banerjee caught up with him to discuss this matter, his show and more.
Ishika: Hi Aamir, thanks for joining us for an interview!
Ishika: Taking over from where the show left, I was wondering that when your team was researching for the show, did you come across any startling facts or any particular case study or example that hit you emotionally and made you take up this topic to portray to a national audience?
Aamir: There are two parts to your question. One is why did we pick up this topic and whether there was any story that touched me.
First, I’ll tell you why we picked up this topic. You know, I feel that this is a topic that is not understood well enough. I did a film called Taare Zameen Par some years ago. I felt that there was no other film that highlighted the issues of learning disabilities or dyslexia. Even people from the education system, a very small percentage of people, at that time, very few really knew what a learning disability is. Taare Zameen Par was a film that actually really helped a lot of people understand what dyslexia is which is why I believe this topic is so important.
The topic of homosexuality is as important in India but because people have a lot of wrong information, lot of myths about gays, lesbians, alternate sexual preferences. And so it is important to try and unravel the facts behind it, understand it better and then put it to people. Because there is a huge population, certainly a minority but still a significant minority of people in every society, no matter where we look at in the globe, where you have people with a different sexuality and unusual sexuality.
It is roughly 10 percent and 10 percent is a big section of the population. In India, we don’t have the numbers because since it is illegal, people don’t come forward and express that ‘yes, I am homosexual or gay or whatever’, because I’ll be arrested after that, you know I could be arrested. Now, we don’t have the numbers in India, therefore, we thought here we have a topic, which is important, which needs to be addressed, which people need to speak up about, and we need to stop feeling scared of this. So that’s why we really picked it up.
In terms of the story, I have to say that all the stories we saw today on the show, each one of them, touched me very, very deeply. Ghazal’s story is so beautiful, I mean her parents are so amazing, the most amazing parents, so supportive. Remember that they come from a conservative background, but the amount of love they have for their child was so unconditional, so that’s a very touchy story.
I think even Divya’s story was very, very moving, a woman who is married and likes her husband and it takes her a while to come to terms with the fact that she has a preference for the same sex, it takes her a while to come to terms with the fact that she is a lesbian. Normally people have this impression that a lesbian is someone who is a very bold girl, who is very forward, who is a rebel, who has got purple hair or something! Divya is a woman who is very average, someone who could be your neighbour, who realizes that. So I found her story moving and the fact that her husband was so supportive and understood. And when all of us understand one very basic thing that something we are born with, something that’s how nature intended us to be, each one of us is different. When we come to terms with that, a lot of pre-conceived notions will disappear.
Priyanka: Recently, an option of the including a third gender has been introduced in Delhi University’s admission forms. For post-graduate courses it has been started already and for undergraduate admissions it will begin from next year. So that’s taken care of it officially. What would your advice be for college students who want to create a strong and supportive peer groups for this community? What suggestions would you have?
Aamir: That’s a big step. That’s a very big step. I am very pleased to hear that Delhi University is doing this. I think that every student, every individual who believes in humanity, who believes that every human being has the right to be different and despite a person being different from me, you know has the same rights, same feelings, same emotions, same fears, same dreams.
If I believe in all of that, and as in India, I believe that we are all equal, I believe in all of these things, if I believe in the Constitution of India, then I should also accept that everyone has a right to be there.
And therefore, people who think this way and believe this way, they can come together to support those people. I may not be a homosexual, but I want to be part of a group who supports the minority, who sometimes feels weak.
Ishika: The show as always is doing a commendable job at bringing to notice social issues which are pertinent to the nation. As the show proceeds you show examples and case studies and towards the end where you suggest some practical solutions to the problems discussed. So does the SMJ team itself make a conscious effort to implement those solutions that you suggested and also, how do you measure the impact that the show had on the audience?
Aamir: At the Satyamev Jayate team, we definitely live by what we believe. So, we live with the same principles for ourselves. Measuring impact is something very difficult, I don’t know how to do it quite honestly. I don’t know how to do it in an organized way. So in a disorganized way we do come to believe that. After season one when our team went out to research season two, wherever our team went they were told ‘Aap SMJ team se hain, humare gaon main yeh hua, humare mohallle mein yeh hua, humare sheher main yeh hua, kahin pe dawaiyon ki dukaan kholi hai humne’. So you know, we kept hearing these things without really going out to look for the stories. A lot of stories have changed, if you go to our website, which is www.satyamevjayate.in, you will see 50-60 odd such stories.
Sometimes the change has been very big. For example, there have been times when people in administration have taken strong steps.
In Madhya Pradesh, the head secretary saw the episode on healthcare and decided to get generic medicines to the people in Madhya Pradesh after the show was aired. And today in MP, medicines are free of cost, for everyone!
Ishika and Priyanka: Wow!
Aamir: Everyone who wants to make use of medicines, generic medicines that are being offered, they are free of cost. So imagine a person who at one point could not afford medicines for himself or herself or her child, now has access to medicines and the entire state has done that so it’s a big change to bring to people’s lives. In Gwalior, for example, the Collector saw our show and decided to make Gwalior disabled-accessible. So, 95% of Gwalior is accessible to disabled people, which is another big step. The entire city has changed in that aspect.
40 lakh children reached out for help to after our episode on child sexual abuse when we put out the number of child rights helplines. 40 lakh children reached out for help, it’s a big number. That’s disturbing also that 40 lakh children need help but at least those 40 lakh children could reach out and get help because of that information now available to them.
Priyanka: SMJ routinely brings to light a lot of important issues, and though you receive a lot of appreciation, I am sure there is still a segment that will not be very appreciative of the work that you are doing through SMJ. So, how do you handle this negativity?
Aamir: With love, with love. You see the thing is that you have to understand is that there are people with different opinions and I understand that there are some people who benefit from the status quo. Let’s take road accidents for example, now there are a lot of things happening with the heavy vehicles’ transport industry or the working of it which are not right, because of which there are accidents happening. Now, of course there are economic ramifications of those things. Overloading for example- Supposing I were a truck driver, why would I overload my truck? Because I want to earn more, of course. If I decide that I am not going to overload that means that I am deciding to earn less. So I may not want a new law, which really punishes me very badly if I overload. I don’t want that change, because it doesn’t benefit me. So I will protest and say, nahi nahi yaar yeh sab kya dikha rahe ho? (chuckles)
So every topic will have certain number of people, 99% of people will want change, 1% of people will not want change because that change is not benefitting them, it is benefitting the 99% people. So, those people are going to be there. I feel we must reach out to them as well and tell them ‘Yaar let’s change’, India has a lot to achieve and we will achieve that if we do the positive things.
Ishika: To conclude the interview, I would like to ask you one last question, which is that a large section of the population is the youth in our country, so can you suggest 3 practical ways in which the youth can proactively work towards the social issues which are there in the society and how we can make an impact and bring about solutions to these problems?
Aamir: Hmmm..I am not quite sure what that advice would be. I genuinely believe that each one of us has to be that change that we want to see happen. I have to be that change. So the first big thing that any one of us can do, whether we are youth or we are not a part of the youth, even an elderly person can do that is get yourself to change and that is I think the biggest thing any one of us can do. So, other than that, I think going out to help people, thinking of others, especially those who are less privileged than us, is something that I would strongly urge the youth to move towards.
You know my Mom always said that the biggest thing that you can do is a bring a smile on someone’s face and reach out to help people and if that’s something that the youth also starts doing, which I am sure a lot of youngsters are already doing that, I don’t think that’s something I need to say to them. Quite honestly, I really don’t want to assume that I know what to tell the young people, it is very presumptuous of me to assume that I can tell the youth what to be doing. I think the youth is very intelligent, very smart, and we see that the way the youth react to a show like SMJ, which is not an entertainment show.
Aamir: So it just shows that the youth is very aware and very sorted and I don’t need to tell them much actually, quite honestly.
Ishika: Since you’re quite an influential speaker and a leader so if you tell the youth what to do, I am sure it would have a big impact!
Aamir: I mean I don’t want to tell the youth what to do but I can tell them what I do. And I feel that the few things that I believe in, one of them is if I can give happiness, see happiness is something that I can get, it’s the only thing I can get , if I give it. So if I give happiness, only then will I get it. So that’s one thing I believe in.
The other thing I believe in is that never compromise with your dreams.
Your dreams may seem impossible to achieve, but hang onto your dreams, work towards them, and never compromise with your dreams, you may compromise to achieve your dream, I may have to compromise on one or two things to achieve those dreams, but never compromise the dream itself. And believe in hope. Be positive, things will happen.
Ishika and Priyanka: Thank you so much for joining us for the interview!