I watched it! Meaning I am now backed up on all my other things. This is what I do for you, the vocal Shahrukh fan readers. My poor Malayalam readers are now going to be mad at me because I didn’t have time to write my Monday review.
Thank goodness, I don’t think I will have to give time to watching any of the other episodes. I kind of got the sense of what the show is like and how it fits into Shahrukh’s star persona and stuff from this one episode, which is what I am interested in.
There were some words that kept coming up in this episode, “Truth” “Imagine” “Better” “Talking”. This is what Shahrukh wants to be about. Or he wants this show to be about. To confront the problems of today with truth, imagination, and most of all, talking about how things can be better.
The opposite of this would be “lies” “closed minds” “worse” “not talking”. Which is pretty much everything wrong with a lot of the stuff the world in general and Indian film in particular is dealing with. Lies about their content and their celebrities, closed minds not willing to see the other side, a vision of the world as inevitably getting worse, and no one talking to anyone else. Or rather, no one listening to anyone else.
(This. The “we should be our own Ram, we should rescue ourselves and we can rescue ourselves” idea.)
Shahrukh is highlighting people who are bringing hope and openness and solutions, instead of just agonizing over problems and pretending they are unsolveable. And he wants them to be listened to, he is giving them a platform. It’s pretty wonderful!
Not everything is wonderful. First, I am just going to assume that these are superficial summaries of solutions that aren’t really ready to be used yet. Second, if I see one more “thoughtful nodding audience reaction shot” I am going to throw my computer through the window. Why do I need the audience in front of me????? Why can’t I just decide for myself when something is worth a thoughtful nod??? GAAAAH! Third, obviously they have picked people who don’t just have good ideas, but are super charismatic about how they present them, so there are probably good ideas out there going unnoticed since they are not invented by interesting people.
Or by desis. That’s the other thing, the opening of the show explicitly says that Shahrukh is taking something “international” and making it “national”. That is, he is closing off any ideas that are not presented by a desi.
But you can see why he is doing this, right? The “bad people” are closing India down, shutting it off, driving it back to the middle ages. And they are using as their weapons the argument that “everything is worse now than it used to be” “these problems are impossible to solve” and (most of all) “we don’t need any facts, solutions, or anything else from any outsiders”. And so Shahrukh is offering optimism, solutions, facts, and he is giving them all from “us”, from straight up desis so you can’t ignore them. And he is doing it in an easily digestible format so that the same common man that has gotten addicted to misinformation can now be addicted to information. Even if it means so many “ah, now I understand!” reaction shots that I want to punch my computer screen.
(This. Let all the stars shine together and be open-minded, and Shahrukh will lead the way)
So, what were the ideas he picked for this first episode? They were a nice mixture. He starts with one that everyone cares about, at least everyone who would be watching a formal Hindi language show on satellite TV, urban housing. And right away there is the stuff I love, the talking about how we are talking about a problem. An introduction to the audience of why words have power and how you can change the conversation and therefore find a solution. The main thrust of the argument was “don’t call them ‘slums’ call them ‘settlements’. And they aren’t the problem, they are the solution.” The suggestion was, rather than fighting it, simply legalize and provide infrastructure to the settlements that have already sprung up. Give the land to the people and let them stay there. But forget the details of the discussion, what is important is the take away of “maybe the people you have dismissed and ignored and ‘othered’ are not the problem, maybe you are the problem and you just never realized it.”
Next up is a kind of boring one, a guy who builds urban jungles. Which I already know all about from Ramante Edanttothan. A little interesting because he is a former engineer-engineer who quit his job to become an “environmental engineer” and build jungles. I find it interesting in the Indian context, bringing someone out as a model of a person who quit a “good” job and instead is doing something that he finds fulfilling and which matters to the world. A nice message for all those people feeling overly pressured to stay in the “good” engineering job.
And then a music break! A female composer comes out to show how she can make music using a computer program thing. Which is not as cool to me, because I saw AR Rahman use the same computer program thing at a concert a few years back. But I do find it hilarious that even in a TED Talk program, there is still a music break 20 minutes in!
(This kind of technology)
And then another desi comes out, but one who developed his program in the US with the help of an American scientist “Jim”. The environmental engineer, similar thing, he took an idea from a Japanese scientist. Another nice subconscious message, they are all desi scientists, but they achieved things only by working with scientists from all over the world. India shouldn’t put up walls.
And then Manju Kapur, a female novelist comes out to talk about gender issues. It’s incredibly remedial stuff, but it’s also really important. She starts with a basic “boys and girls are raised differently and taught different things”. And then moves on to “men, as adults, don’t understand enough to know how to fix things, or when things have done wrong.” And uses an excellent example for the (presumed) new middle-class audience, the baby on the airplane. The mother tries and tries to comfort it, the father tries for a few minutes and then gives up, has dinner, goes to sleep, while the mother is still trying to comfort. And the father just doesn’t see the problem, doesn’t see the need. In a clear way, she is explaining for the Indian context the meaning of gender divisions as learned behaviors not as biologically true, and their consequences in terms of unbalanced emotional labor. And, she argues, it is not that men are incapable of doing these things, it’s that they have never bothered to learn how.
(Also, one of her novels was made into a soap opera! Coincidentally, playing on THE SAME CHANNEL that is broadcasting her TED Talk!!!! What are the odds!?!?!?)
Great little lesson, even if the only take away is “oh right, the things that little boys and girls learn do have an effect on what we think of as ‘man’ and ‘woman’ behavior!” And perfect lesson for Shahrukh to present, he comes out to thanks her afterwards and mentions that he both cooks and puts his kids to sleep. Which I believe, which is why he is perfect to present this show. He is the perfect man and the perfect lover, and this nice woman just explained clearly to the audience why we find him the perfect man and the perfect lover. If you want to be loved like SRK is loved, you should learn how to cook and carry your weight in raising the kids.
And finally, the closer! A guy from MIT who moved back to India and is working on designing ink that can be made by gathering pollution particles. Like the opening, this is an issue that all the urban types who are presumably watching this show will really care about. And this is someone who chose to leave America and come back to India to do his work, which lets Shahrukh make a little Swades joke. And is something that the audience will really respond to.
Speaking of audience response, the reason I hate those reaction shots SO MUCH is that they are pandering. They are leading us to think these speakers are brilliant and wonderful and all that just because the nice people on the TV screen think they are brilliant and wonderful and all that. The whole show is pandering a bit. Mostly in the way it presents the desi-made discoveries. Falls into that whole thing of “look look! We are the best! We need validation and reinforcement from international schools and societies so that we can believe we are the best!” Which is just a very ugly look, I have to say. Like that girl at the party who needs you to tell her how pretty she is every 5 minutes.
(Amisha did such a perfect job with her character in Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Lmtd.! But that doesn’t mean I like that kind of a person)
But there is less here than there could be. It’s not nearly as bad as a lot of other stuff I have seen. And it feels like it was thrown in just to support the message, not that it is the message. If you want the Indian audience to listen to you, to start to understand ideas and new thinking and so on, you need to reassure them that these are “good” ideas, that other people besides you think they are worthwhile.
What’s really ugly is Shahrukh’s hair! He does a great job as host, is very pleasant to everyone, gives them a nice introduction, and a brief compliment when they are done, and sits in the front row looking interested the whole time. But does not make it all about himself, not at all, it is about the ideas. However, the entire time, TERRIBLE HAIR!!!! That wet look slicked back thing like in the bridge scene in “Tujhe Dekho”, but worse because he has highlights. His shirt isn’t great either, decorative black line on it that doesn’t really work, and unbuttoned but not cut for it. Also, a cummerbund or a strange vest thing, I don’t understand it and it isn’t needed. It’s like he is wearing a deconstructed tuxedo, but the deconstruction is a shabby job.
(I don’t understand what is happening)