The ills of society are often reflected in popular culture. But can popular culture also inspire a cure for those ills? Bollywood's most profitable star, the suave and charismatic actor Aamir Khan, is placing his celebrity on the line to prove that it can. Produced by Al Jazeera, The Snake Charmer is a captivating documentary that details the actor's efforts to provoke cultural change in his home country.
Bollywood films are easily the most popular and beloved form of entertainment in India. Well over a hundred million viewers are likely to enjoy at least one of their titles during any given week. In light of their enormous popularity, it's easy to see how these films might have the power to influence social attitudes and cultural norms.
Since the 1970's, as many as 70% of Bollywood films have featured a depiction of female rape. Given this astounding statistic, critics have understandably accused the industry of indulging in rampant misogyny, endorsing shallow female stereotypes and promoting violence against women.
Khan had grown accustomed to starring in films that propagated these tasteless themes. But all that changed in 2012 as his plagued conscience inspired him to co-create and host Satyamev Jayate, a prime time program that tackles issues related to female abuse and empowerment.
The film takes viewers behind the scenes of the television show, and introduces us to one of its interview subjects, a mother who was forced to marry at the age of 12 and was mauled into disfigurement by her enraged husband.
By forging a thoughtful, albeit uncomfortable conversation on these long buried issues, Khan hopes viewers will recognize the need for change both within the culture and within themselves.
Khan's efforts have also extended onto the big screen, and provide further evidence of the effectiveness of his mission. In 2016, he produced and starred in Dangal, an inspiring story of female courage and resolve that has since become the highest grossing film in India's history.
If we look inward and ask the hard questions, we can all find the strength to be agents of change for the world around us. The Snake Charmer is a potent reminder of this.