For close to three months Bollywood actor Aamir Khan made Indians squirm with guilt and denial and forced them to face their dark side over a series of well researched and executed social documentaries on rampant social inequalities.
The straight talking, intense host of ‘Satyamev Jayate’ tore apart the moribund traditions that manifested in gender specific selections of foetuses, caste discrimination and abuse of the elderly. He made a nation sit up and take notice of the hypocrisies that its people passed off as convention. He even moved the stone-hearted with stories so grim that they’d make your skin crawl.
All the more reason why ‘Talaash’ was such a letdown because its lead protagonist and social torch bearer compromised the stand he took months ago on showing the uneducated, ill informed, misguided and superstitious Indians the light of reason and rationalism.
Aamir roused in his ‘Satyamev Jayate’ audience a strange sense of patriotism. Of course we knew of the deep rooted corruption that plagued our medical profession. The urban Indians were also vaguely aware of the cruel Khap Panchayats diktats. We weren’t ready to look the evil in the eye until we were made to.
In a format that was ’60 Minutes’ in treatment and Oprah Winfrey in emotional impact and reach, Aamir told his audience in a carefully constructed, understated but firm tone that it was NOT all right to demonise lovers. It may have made you uncomfortable or even alarmed but week after week, the actor went beyond his brief to use his star image to bring about change. He succeed in moving India’s lethargic bureaucracy to an extent to be the change that we wanted to see.
But his supernatural thriller ‘Talaash’ clashed horribly with what he preached for months on his scheduled Sunday morning slot on television, and was clearly unwilling to practice.
It must have been about the same time that ‘Satyamev Jayate’ aired that Aamir was packing up the post production work of ‘Talaash’ and gearing up for the promotion – which on hindsight was remarkably low-key for a Khan film. Khan films starring any of the four Khans – Salman, Aamir, Shah Rukh and Saif – have become yearly outings for families looking for a good time.
The rational Aamir – who has come to be known as the ‘thinking man’s Khan’ – must have known back then the message that ‘Talaash’ would send out to an audience that hung on to his every word, and more so because he has painstakingly and deliberately established a clean, uncontroversial and intelligent image. His films reflected his real reluctance to portray any role that would compromise his social image.
‘Talaash’, simply put, endorses the supernatural, establishes bluntly that séances are real, the spirit world is constantly trying to reconcile with its living counterpart, and the reconciliation and therefore closure – real, mind you, not imagined psychological gibberish – comes in the form of an actual note from a dead son to his father who is racked with remorse.
For years Indian rationalists have debunked theories of the supernatural with reason and logic. It hasn’t stopped believers from putting their faith in the nether world either. So why then does Aamir have to accept the onus of blame?
Well, for one, he did hold the moral compass every Sunday that ‘Satyamev Jayate’ aired urging us to rise above our pettiness, our established evils, our superstitions and our base nature. So forgive us if we ask him now what good a film, watched across the country by people from various social and economic classes, has done by re-establishing those same superstitions?
If he was any other actor, the lapse, if at all, would be easier to work around. However he is self-admittedly conscientious and particular about the kind of social message he conveys through his films – which is why his ‘3 Idiots’ takes on the country’s competitive education system.
Short of facing the camera and telling everyone ‘Yes, I Aamir Khan say that ghosts exist because it is possible to see one, talk to one and even touch one’, Talaash did everything to take the theory forward that spirits live among us and seek out the unhappy. So it can be assumed that the climax of the film in which Kareena Kapoor is shown as a spirit, was filmed after Aamir’s approval.
Thankfully, the average educated adult has the maturity to understand that it’s just a film and to take it at face value.
However Aamir would have failed miserably in the social responsibility he took on earlier this year if he did not debunk the theories in his film that might lead to blind superstition, misplaced faith in frauds claiming to be middlemen between the supernatural and the living world and people in real world making money off the miseries of people who have lost a loved one.