Show Business Activism

You are dreaming!

You are a 40-something successful superstar, struck with middle-age angst, aching to do something different and socially relevant. You flirt with the likes of the Narmada project and Anna Hazare but they turn out to be too controversial.

Then you realize that it’s best to do something within the context of your profession and kill three birds with one stone; do something different, make good money and not waste time learning new “third things” like running or paragliding.

You start brainstorming and come up with the idea of doing a show that highlights socially relevant issues. You start with an episode on female feticide that creates such a storm in the country that a couple of Chief Ministers actually give you an audience. You are thrilled and start believing that you are at the cusp of a new movement.

Other episodes follow in a similar vein. You choose safe one-sided topics that don’t allow counter-arguments. Obviously, female feticide is unacceptable, as are child rape, domestic violence and the practice of dowry. Not having another viewpoint or reasoned debate allows a tightly scripted show, with the right amount of short sound-bytes, keyed down histrionics and misty eyes.

You smartly choose soft targets; people who can’t really fight back or make your life miserable, steering clear of politicians, powerful industrialists and businessmen and people related to the underworld or the different mafias. To back you up, you use a “research” team that keeps passing off small sample dipstick surveys as research or uses material that is already in the public domain.

You are cruising away happily on cloud nine…when suddenly…you stumble. You anchor an episode on the state of healthcare. It is true that commissions, over-prescription of drugs and unnecessary surgeries are all major problems that need to be tackled. But in your newfound glory and power, you forget to double-check your facts and use examples that are ridiculous, wrong or downright untruths. More importantly, the case studies you show have a second side to their stories that don’t get told…you forget that medicine is still a practice of judgment calls that requires both sides to be heard to get to the truth that may still at the end not be clearly obvious. And worse, you actually, unthinkingly, make stupid, flippant statements that create havoc in the minds of patients (for example, those with renal failure) that make most doctors like me cringe.

And soon thereafter, people start tuning out and the TRPs take a tumble. The show, like this article, seems too good to be true. The histrionics…the tears, the raised eyebrows, the tilted head…all become repetitive and predictable. In fact, Jhalak Dikhla Ja and Indian Idol seem to provide more honest entertainment as reality shows go… without all the “socially relevant” baggage. In journalist Sucheta Dalal’s words, “if activism could be reduced to show business, India would not need drastic transformation, 65 years after independence”.

And then you wake up, cold!

You begin to realize that show-business activism is no different from the armchair, one-click activism that has become the norm these days in the era of email, Facebook and Twitter, which, as Mr. Malcolm Gladwell has discussed in one of his long-form articles in The New Yorker, is unlikely to bring in any lasting change in the long term! You also intuitively understand that making a difference in real life means getting your hands dirty in the mud and that reasoned discourse means having to handle a 360 degrees view of the problem with balancing counter-views.

You shake your head. What a dream!


  • shefali wrote:

    awesome….. you have put in words what was in my mind since the first day of airing… BTW i have not watched a single episode…

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    You should watch a couple Shefali. In terms of production values the show is very nice.

  • Every one is entitled to an opinion.
    You may like Jhalak dikhlaja and Indian Idol for its entertainment value which they are, but Satyameva Jayate does not propogate entertainment.
    It truely takes us to the personal lives of the common man and tells us about some things many of us were unaware of.
    Did you see the last episode about pesticides in our food. He had brought in the CEO of largest pesticide manufacturer on the dias to give a 360 degree view to the topic of toxicity in food products.

    Every episode I have seen has brought a lump to my throat.
    It shakes me up from my callous attitude towards life and makes me want to do reach out and do something to help in a small way I can. The serial make one think about all the topics touched upon so far.
    I don’t know about TRP ratings, but this serial is on the top of my favorite program ‘must list’ to watch.
    After watching every episode of the said servial so far on Sundays, other serial look pale in comparison. Sorry, they aren’t even any where close to be compared.
    I look forward to this weekly dose of awakening the unconsious part(consceince) of my mind.

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    I have stopped watching so I wouldn’t know about the pesticide one but it is not in their interest to have conflicting opinions. The idea is that the the viewers should not be allowed to think and decide on their own – one point of view, that of the show should be thrust down their throat.

  • Janak Sheth wrote:

    I have not seen that episode on Medical Practise. Let us temporarily cast aside the issue of poor research or one side story. Lets look at the broader question of trust (i.e. corruption related) in the medical fraternity.

    The endemic corrupt practices of the medical fraternity raise doubt in every citizen’s mind as to the doctor’s motives. Is it not time that the fraternity did something about it. Sadly guiding trustworthy GPs are dying breed (you wrote about this few months ago).

    Would female feoticide be so prevalent if the medical fraterntiy did not actively connive with the society. Then is the medical fraternity not guilty? Is this judicious use of their medical knowledge?

    I can understand that you as part of the medical fraternity are especially touchy about that subject but step back, take an objective view and look at how the wrong can be righted.

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    No one is denying Janak, the problems. Just that the examples shown should have aired a second point of view.

  • shaukat dyani wrote:

    i would like o reply to janak. the author has not defended the medical practice/ners or the profession nor has he criticized the 40+ acting-crusader per se. he has just rightly pointed out that a genuine coin has 2 sides. sometimes success in one field goes to the head GOD PROMISE one feels like god.

  • Haniraj Chulani wrote:

    Much as the public expect doctors to be corruption free it is to be remembered that they come from the same pool as other professionals. A corrupt architect could maim or kill hundreds at one go and a corrupt lawyer can screw his client to deprive him of his due.
    About the show of Aamir Khan- it was total bull s***. A patient underwent pancreatic transplant when he was admitted for a kidney disease! Only a fool can believe that. But then, people generally are stupid and lap up things read, heard or shown on the big/small screen!
    You don’t need to cringe- carry on the good work.

  • Nitin tamhane wrote:

    So very true .You have taken the phony show head on .However after all it is a TV show with TRP and all nothing more nothing less.Has anyone claimed including Aamir that they want to change anything through the program?

    With active news campaigners around these shows are irrelevant

    The real star is Arnab who takes the politicians,industrialists and mafia head on without fear

    The old lady of Boribunder is behind him !

  • dipali wrote:

    There is a journalist whose column I like,and sometimes send him an email.he wrote about the positivity of this show a couple of weeks back.when I wrote to him my feelings about the episode on medical practise,(which are similar to dr.bhavin’s as I too am a medico)he became defensive and didnot take it too well.My point is,why has there not been a single episode or comment about corrupt politicians,police department,cricketers etc.Serving the humanity is the duty of every human being and not just doctors.Bollywood stars,cricketers,and some high profile industrialists never even think of serving the humanity.Well,there are still some episodes left,so let us see whether the anchor has the guts to expose corruption in these fields.I have no intention to defend a malpractising doctor,but the point is,he has chosen doctors to “expose”them,as he is not worried about the backlash like there was at the time of Narmada controversy.

  • Amit Choudhury wrote:

    Most Indians live in a sterile cocoon which revolves round family,food and films.The fact that Amir has made a well scripted,intelligent and watchable series based on real issues, which if not anything else provokes thought, makes some of us uncomfortable. In spite of Bhavinbhais sarcasm the fact that some action is finally being taken against abortion clinics and people know there are options in medications and pesticide free produce etc. is enough for me.But then the average man from Matunga would rather learn the latest Bollywood steps from TV for the next Navratri

  • jamnav wrote:

    Dear Bhavin
    I do wish, in the medical episode more attention was given to Dr.Shetty. Yes, there is malpractice and fairly widespread, but there are so many physicians who really care for the patients and often forgo their fees if the patient can not afford it.

  • JIGISH B MODI wrote:

    I would like to reply to Janak. Every profession has got rotten eggs. But to blame the entire fraternity because of this is not correct. Also the research which was shown lacks good homework (rather research work)I am a non-medico but have comment sense.. which is lacking in that episode.

    When you have a problem, dont you take two three opinions? How can one believe what was shown in that episode. This was targeted to mass media of our country, who believe that what actually has been shown is true. This sounded like the unbearable Hindi news of channel which shows rubbish and to make it entertaining they add much sound and music like India TV Lemon TV etc. which lacks substance and adds crap to Idiot Box. Good Masala for one evening !!

  • and this is how a good movement gets snipped in the bud…. granted that there may be a slight bit of one sidedness but overall the show is shifting the focus to things we still need to fix. We cannot continue living in our “India shining” while the India still in darkness spirals ever more into darkness.

    Tomorrow this writeup will get published in Mumbai Mirror and a nation of crabs will have a chemical reaction and start pooh poohing the reformer who was trying to get them to give up female infanticide, wife beating, dowry, child abuse…. and a fairly large amount of medical malpractice as well…. granted you are a medical professional good sir but you are also a much read intellectual thinker. People form opinions on what you write here. With great power comes greater responsibility and today of all days I feel a writer who is much read has a huge impact on the public opinion.

    So the show said something bad about the medical profession, everyone sat up and took notice, but the great work being done by Dr. Shetty which was equally highlighted …why was that not as celebrated by the medical fraternity? why did the fraternity not go “yes!!! this is what we do, this is dotors for you!!!”…. because lets face it even you know that a multispeciality hospital is not built on charity alone… and when business creeps into the noble profession, corruption cannot and is not far behind. Does an x-ray have to cost as much as it does? does a USG need to cost upwards of 2000 bucks?

    Seriously what and who are we fooling, there is a business element in the medical profession and the associated corruption today is higher than ever before, thanks to MRs and insurance companies. Then again can’t blame you for the defensive article after all it’s nothing personal… just business as usual…. only that this destroys a movement tomorrow morning when the 6:23 local pulls out of Andheri station and opinions start forming…. wife beating, child molestation, female infaticide and medical malpractices are all back on the table…. congratulations!

  • V.Subramanian wrote:

    Your Article does betray a sense of deep hurt.One can understand wherre your are coming from. Politicians,Businessmen and Underworld guys do not affect the lives of common man,on a regular basis, as much as a Doctor does.Besides it is not a question of an odd “Black Sheep” here or there, but there are several of them and Doctors like Devi Shetty are rare exceptions.My Profession(CA) is also much maligned one.But the malpactrices of a CA does not affect directly a common man’s life.It is easy to pontificate that there is no justification for malparactices, any where.But Practice of medicine, calls for the highest level of ethicl standards.
    Let us not shoot the messenger and refuse to accept reality.Counter view points,especially concerning this episode,would be in a bare minority, drowned in a deluge of of those who agree with Amir Khan.One can nit pick on the manner in which he conducted the programme,but the contents seem irrefutable. Activism through any medium should be acceptable in a progressive democracy as long as it produces the desired impact.I do agree, it is difficult to judge weather the santimonius exhibitions displayed in public through his shows, is personaly practised or not.

  • I have not watched that controversial episode but all I can say is that there is no smoke without fire. It may be lop sided to an extent but surely not all that is being said is false. Pharma cos do play with lives and they do it through doctors. There may be few and far cases but can’t say that the medical fraternity is above board completely. I am no judge for the show or for doctors but I strongly believe that yes there are malpractices and underhand dealings. Having said that I am not advocating that this show is the best or such but it has opened a can of worms which was hitherto swept under the carpet.

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    Manish…all that is a given. There are a lot of issues with medical practice. But that does not give anyone the right to use downright wrong examples. The ends don’t justify the means.

  • Jayesh Desai wrote:

    All those who point finger at others should remember that three fingers point towards them, Doctors do not drop from heaven, They are born, brought up in this same cess-pool which now India has become. Kindly remember that a person who by the time he becomes doctor see this around him everywhere, and what should be exception has becomes norm, so his moral fiber has already compromised. However this is not to defend the doctors. I would like to tell the CA friend that betrayal of trust by anyone is heinous crime against humanity. Anyone who does that has to be denounced strongly. Can you tell me how many people who buy flat in Mumbai costing more then crors of Rupees have earned that money honestly? so go home and look in mirror and try to reform that person first.(applies to Amir too)

  • Jayesh Desai wrote:

    All those who point finger at others should remember that three fingers point towards them, Doctors do not drop from heaven, They are born, brought up in this same cess-pool which now India has become. Kindly remember that a person who by the time he becomes doctor see this around him everywhere, and what should be exception has becomes norm, so his moral fiber has already compromised. However this is not to defend the doctors. I would like to tell the CA friend that betrayal of trust by anyone is heinous crime against humanity. Anyone who does that has to be denounced strongly. Can you tell me how many people who buy flat in Mumbai costing more then crors of Rupees have earned that money honestly? so go home and look in mirror and try to reform that person first.(applies to Amir too)

  • Sunil Kamath wrote:

    The Very Fact that, this column of yours Bhavin(ji) has elicited so many comments, suggests that this indeed is a DEBATABLE TOPIC.

    Being a Retd. Pathologist myself, can vouch for the fact that, MALPRACTICES ARE RAMPANT….and WE DO NOT DENY THE FACT…but at the same time would have preferred AAMIR to hold his show in a much balanced form.

    When the Star goes on to cite example of the no. of Doctors suspended in the UK and in India…would it not have been prudent on his part to also comment and highlight the no. of times that the Doctors have been beaten and bodily harmed, vis a vis the Doctors in the UK. Also would it not been fair to compare the facilities & the infrastructure that the Doctors from the 2 countries encounter, as students and Medical Professionals ???

    When Aamir showcased Dr. Devi Shetty (and may his Tribe Grow) let it be known that for every Aamir Khan there are a countless no. of strugglers (in Bollywood).

    One of the comments, mentioned the ENDEMIC CORRUPT PRACTICES of the Medical Fraternity…Would the Gentleman who used such glowing terms, point out to us….ONE PROFESSION that is FREE OF … such ENDEMIC CORRUPT PRACTICES ???

    What this show by the SUPERSTAR has managed to do is that a lot of cynicism will be spread amongst the General public as they view the Doctors and the Healthcare system, which PREVIOUSLY TOO, WAS SEEN THROUGH JAUNDICED EYES..!!

    Aamir Khan was considered to be the ONLY THINKING ACTOR in Bollywood after the BIG B himself…but this episode has left many more like me questioning that fact..!!

  • Your Reply ” The idea is that the the view­ers should not be allowed to think and decide on their own — one point of view, that of the show should be thrust down their throat.”

    Nobody is thrusting anything down anybody’s throat. You excercised your right to not watching the serial. You have right to switch and watch serials like Jhalak Dhiklaja or Indian Idol which make you “think?”. These are the very shows which thrust down our throat what they want to show, there’s nothing to think.

    Aamir’s serial is interactive, thought provoking, has social message which makes the audience and viewer sit up and think and act for themselves, rather than ” Chalta hai ” attitude or ” Kuch nahi hona is desh ka”. He has shown that how even comman people like us can stand up and fight the system and come out with flying colors. He is just trying to tell us ” to be the change we want to see.”

    Give the guy a chance this Sunday morning. See it with an unbiased mind.
    I am sure you will see the programme in a different light. The serial has never promoted itself as an entertainment program. For that you have the other shows you mentioned.

    By the way, the dreamer atleast voiced his opinion on Narmada and Anna. Some of us did not even do that though we all had an opinion.

  • DR.RUPAL SHAH wrote:


  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    I agree Rupal. It needs to be addressed and tackled.

  • prem mahtani wrote:

    Will Aamir broach the topic of ”POPULATION CONTROL”,this is one and single factor thaqt has ruined our nation.
    A couple who has no roof,no food,no clothes
    get upon themselves to produce kids like there was no tomorrow,these kids roam the streets creating slums and producing more kids,eating into our economy where less than 2% pay taxes and the rest screw the tax payer to pay more for infrastructure.At the rate we are going there is enough chaos and future is not india shining,it is a bullshit propoganda by politicians who are voted to power by slums.Aamir is a actor who gets paid,but let him come out with episodes on some ”CIVIC SENSE”,”ROAD SENSE IN TERMS OF DRIVING AND JAYWALKING”AND ABOVE ALL ”POPULATION EXPLOSION.

  • Bhavik, I agree with you. There are shows that are being Thrust-down our throats. Specially, all the Ladies Special Shows from 10 am to 12 pm midnight. I wonder who is gaining – knowledge-wise or otherwise from such shows, except promoters and advertisers. My head starts spinning even while just glancing at such shows and scarred of losing balance the manner in which they are shown. Only the ladies prevail in these shows and whenever any male member comes up – whether son / son-in-law / father / father-in-law / grand father / grand father-in-law, they are all shown standing on one side having meek presence as if afraid to open their mouth or mind. Are they trying to create a new culture in our India family system? Then I think they are living in fool’s paradise.

  • About Amir Khan’s shows, he has done a good beginning, but there are many issues affecting lives of us Indian on day-to-day basis, which he should take-up, instead of just dwelling on any one subject. With his popularity and grip on audience, he would be able to do it marvelously if he takes one such issue at a time per episode. He could bring about a lot of awareness to our people which is badly needed, provided he selects and manages such issues on screen with care – and No Doubt, he has the expertise to do it. So should put it in use for the masses.

  • The reason that doctors are angry with the show is that the show prides itself to be the beacon of truth but didn’t bother to give the doctors a fair chance to put their case
    . The actual stories in the show are half truths as most doctors involved have come forth with their side with proof on forums like Facebook. Instead of admitting his mistake aamir khan has ranted on with his non sense on news channels.

    Besides all topics from the show are shown on most news channels everyday. Nobody bothered then. So if people are taking the topics seriously it is just becoz of bollywood factor ..As you have aptly put show biz activism. Fake.

  • kalpana.sridharan wrote:

    Dear Mr.Bhavin,felt very sad to read your article on medical malpractice.we always knew negative side of medicalpractice but let me tell you after watching the show i came to know about remarkable job done by doctors in Banglore,hyderabad and other places.and my reaction was wow… all is not lost.i am sure you and your people must have seen the show half and have come to conclusion.we never like to see mirror which doesnt show what we want to see.and my observation is reactions have come only from doctors and their family.looks like personal attack in a degrading manner.sad.

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    I saw the show 3 times to understand what was going on. And Kalpana, the issue really is that it was all one-sided. Showing Dr. Devishetty doesn’t change anything.

  • Norman wrote:

    Have no love lost for any star, or any so called hero.
    My heroes are the only ones who protect me from intruders at the border, the ones who stand up in spite of the conditions that prevail.
    Having said that I feel that Amir has pinched your weak spot, twisted a nerve. If the cap suits you you should wear it. If not just take it with a pinch of salt. He never said that all doctors are cheats, but there are and people know that, as many are taken for a ride.
    Will not give details as it is a known fact.
    As far as taking the politicians and others to task, there are others who are doing a fairly good job, and we are seeing that, with so many of the rogues going to jail. Yes they are let off, due to flaws in the system, but at least now they will think twice before they loot the Nation.
    Taking Bruce Lee’s line from Enter The Dragon “Boards do not hit back” Surely Doctors are not boards, and they can defend themselves if they feel that they are in the right,or if they have been hit below the belt.
    This hitting of the board applies to people who really cannot fight. For instance the weak, woman or children, who are battered and cannot defend themselves.
    About watching the program? you have every right to switch channels and watch whatever program you desire.
    Lastly if you do not mind. You have been writing for MM for years, and have a very good platform to air your views. Have you ever written about/against the system that you want Amir to tackle. Or is it that you have been invited only to please the masters?
    If so then let someone else do what he is doing. It is very easy to criticize someone, when standing and watching things go by.


  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    Norman, doctors are soft boards, unfortunately. He has tweaked a spot. The problem is not about the issues he has raised but the way he has done so. Virtually every example used has been found to be wrong or the facts have been twisted to suit the case. All that needed to be done was to allow the other party to have its say. That’s all.

  • mahesh wrote:

    Great thoughts,but we should acknowledge the show as this issue will be debated and hopefully standards of practice questioned and compared to the good ones.

  • Bhavin,

    Opinions are noses or tongues and cheeks – to each his own. I endorse your views that the format of the show is on the very safe side (read a standard SRK flick with Yash Chopra or Karan Johar)- especially the audience applauding on the entry of the aging superstar after each break. The man credited for treading a DIFFERENT PATH could have chosen something more different. On the other hand, we also need to admit to the fact that Bollywood and Cricket have a huge mindspace in our nation. An Amitabh Bachchan endorsing Polio would have more impact than notices put up at maternity homes. Most of the topics aired till now are not problems of yesterday which can be fixed today for a better tomorrow!!! There are societal and deep rooted religious or cultural histories associated with them in our nation. Even if some incremental change for the better happens (and if pursued and sustained)- the programme could be said to have made an impact.

  • […] used 600 words last month to try to say the same thing, with­out quite get­ting the mes­sage across. And since my thrust […]

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