At 52, Shah Rukh Khan still exudes the kind of charisma movie stars around the world should be envious of. This is a moment at which his superstar status, following a string of middling and flop films, is under some form of threat — a perfect time, that is, to reinvent his image. The breathlessly titled TED Talks India Nayi Soch, a new talk show he’s presenting on Star Plus and Hotstar, attempts to do precisely that.
You’re So Nayi-ve
Both episodes aired so far begin the same way: Khan, in a well-cut suit, walks on stage to thunderous applause from the studio audience, many of them chanting “Shah Rukh, Shah Rukh!” Our curious propensity to be on first-name terms with movie stars aside, it indicates his fans’ continued, fervent wish to see him as larger than life: as a movie star rather than a man.
But on this show, Khan is acutely sensitive to the amount of limelight he’s hogging. He gets straight to the point and introduces his speakers with dignity and respect. Then, to clearly signal to the viewer that he isn’t the star of the show, he gets off stage and takes his seat in the audience.
TED Talks Nayi Soch is an attempt at filling the void left behind by Satyamev Jayate, fellow superstar Aamir Khan’s “social reality talk show” that hasn’t aired since late 2014. This venture comes six months after Khan delivered his own TED talk (imaginatively titled ‘Thoughts on humanity, fame and love') in Vancouver at the behemoth conference, and is TED’s first venture in a language other than English.
Talks To Me, Baby
Like Satyamev Jayate, the show is almost entirely in Hindi, down to titles and credits. It even has live musical performances, although a little more elaborate than the other show’s. In the first episode, for example, music director Sneha Khanwalkar creates music literally out of thin air, standing on an empty stage and gesturing over and around what appear to be sensors that trigger digital music samples.
Its tone, however, appears to be a little more upbeat than that of Aamir’s show. It approaches serious issues from progressive, solution-oriented perspectives with likeable earnestness. Talks are often punctuated with audible reactions from the studio audience, which makes these TED Talks livelier than most — even if some of it is very clearly the result of sloppy editing.
Its first episode, ‘Re-imagining India’, begins with a talk by human settlement expert Gautam Bhan (previously featured on bpb), who explains how classism and India’s housing crisis are closely interlinked. Bhan is eloquent and cutting, yet hopeful; he remains respectful of his audience even when he calls them out on their internalised narratives. When he finishes, the audience rises to its feet. It often does.
A number of the speakers so far are existing TED or TEDx fellows who’ve previously delivered talks in English. Physicist and inventor Manu Prakash condenses two of his past talks into a crisp six minutes - a concise, if more technically simplistic performance. The same, albeit to a lesser degree, is the case with eco-entrepreneur Shubhendu Sharma’s talk on afforestation, which drops some of the hairier scientific details involved in the creation of his fast-growing multilevel forests.
This isn’t to say that these talks won’t be fascinating to first-time viewers. It is heartening to see such a sincere effort at making socially responsible, scientific-minded content on primetime television. However, those already accustomed to TED may find these viewing experiences watered down. In their endeavour to pack as much as they can in one episode, Nayi Soch seems to be aiming to give viewers a healthy-enough ratio of inspiration and Khan’s charm.
Kaur Banega Crorepati
Is it healthy enough, then? That will depend on the speakers' quality, and so far, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. The second episode, ‘Power of Words’, features the likes of student activist Gurmehar Kaur and lyricist-screenwriter Javed Akhtar. What is delivered is often resonant, but repetitive. But it could be argued that these are concepts and ideas that bear repetition so as to successfully stoke our collective conscience. In that regard, Nayi Soch is top-notch television programming, with the potential to effect tangible change in its viewers’ minds, if not their actions.
But better yet, it reintroduces us in spirit to a version of Shah Rukh Khan we’ve sorely missed — the charming, grounded NASA scientist of Swades — and brings him to our living rooms, our laptops, and our phones. Welcome back, Mohan Bhargav.
‘TED Talks India Nayi Soch’ simulcasts across Star Plus, Star Gold, Movies OK, Star World, Star Pravah, Star Jalsha and Hotstar every Sunday, 7 pm.
This review was contributed by Suprateek Chatterjee, a cultural commentator and independent music producer based in Mumbai.
Wake up to daily updates on what to eat/shop/do in your city