Imagine Satyamev Jayate minus Aamir Khan and the pathos and the buckets of tears. That’s what Amitabh Bachchan’s new reality show, Aaj Ki Raat Hai Zindagi, is. Rarely do you get to watch good Hindi TV programming, that too on Star Plus, which is more famous for its regressive saas-bahu shows. Aaj Ki Raat Hai Zindagi marks Bachchan’s return to Star Plus after a long gap, breaks from norm and deserves a massive round of applause for doing so.

It is a reality show about Indians who’ve made a difference to the lives of others. The programme is hosted by Bachchan and features different people and their work. The people featured also get to meet celebrities who come on the show. It’s a simple format where Bachchan introduces the person, describes the work they’ve done (a small video of the work is shown), and then speaks to the person. There’s no hysteria, sadness, contrived storytelling or great outpouring of emotion. Which is what makes it an extremely pleasant viewing experience. Also, Bachchan has an extremely comforting and easy manner which makes anyone he’s speaking to, whether it’s an 89-year-old woman or a 10-year-old child, feel at ease.

It is extremely commendable and inspiring to watch Bachchan hosting a show with an ease which most stars half his age can’t manage. I’m totally gobsmacked by his energy levels and interest in forever trying new things and in simply carrying on working.

The research team should also be lauded for identifying the stories and the people who were featured on the show.

This Sunday’s episode began with Laxmi Menon of the Wicksdom Project which makes wicks for oil lamps. She has a team called the Grandma Wicks team which includes Lakshmi, her grandmother, mother and women from four old-age homes. The thought behind the project was not just to make wicks but to give women living in old-age homes, who can’t travel a lot, something to do which is easy and makes money as well.

The second story was about four youngsters in Vadodara who have started an initiative called Joy Ride, under which they take underprivileged children for joyrides in their luxury cars. Only two of the names were shared, Sunny Gupta and Rushabh Gandhi. It’s a really simple idea, but what a great way to make some kid’s day.

The third person featured was Dr Ranganayakulu Bodavala, who has founded One Child, One Light, which makes low-cost solar lamps priced at 100 to help children study in villages where they do not have access to electricity or have limited access to it. All you have to do is keep the lamp in the sun for a day and the light lasts for a week.

The fourth person featured was Himanshu Patel, the sarpanch of village Punsari in Gujarat who has made Punsari into a model village which would put Ralegan Siddhi, a model of sustainable development, to shame. Everyone in the village has toilets, the village has wi-fi, a reverse osmosis plant for water purification, a public address system, and a CCTV in every classroom of every school in the village.

In the episode, the song and dance was provided by actors Raveena Tandon and Dia Mirza. Singer Sonu Nigam, who came dressed in harem pants for some reason, sang many songs in the same episode.

The drawback of the show is that it lasts for more than an hour, and you need to really take out a chunk of time to watch it. Also, I didn’t understand what Hussain, the anchor, was doing on the show, other than nodding appreciatively at whatever Bachchan said and laughing when everyone else laughed. A little like Navjot Sidhu on Comedy Nights With Kapil. No one knows what he’s doing on the show, including Sidhu himself. Maybe it’s Star Plus’ small way of providing employment to people.

This is not high entertainment from any angle, but it’s a show worth watching simply because it’s such a pleasant change to hear happy and inspiring real-life stories about people making a difference. Also, these are the kind of stories which need to be highlighted and are rarely on prime time television. These are people who are committed to their respective causes and have no sob stories or traumatic experiences to share. Which sadly will make it vanilla viewing for most audiences. According to BARC ratings, the earlier episode only managed a viewership of 3.4 million, with almost double the people tuning in to watch the very cerebral and engrossing Meri Aashiqui Tum Se Hi on Colors at the same time.

Says a lot about television audiences and why the horribly tawdry entertainment shows that are crowding every Hindi general entertainment channel continue to be made.

Yet, putting dismay aside, till such time as Aaj Ki Raat Hai Zindagi is on air, I’d say tune in and watch it. It’s rarely that we get good intelligent programming with its heart in the right place.

You can watch Aaj Ki Raat Hai Zindagi on Star Plus on Sundays at 8pm.

Close