Aamir Khan, famous Indian actor and producer, has turned the spotlight away from the glitz of reality television and into the darkness of India's largest but widely ignored issues-all with a TV talk show.
In the opening episode of Khan's show, he sat across from Ameesha Yagnik on a half-circle couch, in front of a studio audience, to talk about her six abortions.
Yagnik recalled how her husband forced her to abort six female babies in eight years. Like millions of Indian families, Yagnik's husband wanted a son. He eventually threw Yagnik out of the house and refused to let her meet her infant daughter for months until she agreed to divorce him.
By the end of the show, Khan and his audience were in tears.
Since its debut in May, Khan's show has reached nearly one-third of India with its discussions about modern India's persistent flaws-social problems that many people have ignored for years. The show, appropriately named "Satyamev Jayate," or "Truth Alone Prevails," is a blend of hard news and raw emotional appeal-much like a hybrid of 60 Minutes and Oprah.
The program is broadcast on several networks estimated to reach about 400 million people in India. More than 13 million people have posted suggestions and messages of support on the show's website.
"Definitely it's reminding people that there are problems within our society," said Narendra Kumar, an environmental researcher in New Delhi. "It's also creating discussions and sometimes helping people find solutions to the problems."
In India, census after census has revealed that fewer and fewer girls are being born, despite strict laws against sex-selective abortions and a slew of failed government incentives and programs. But Khan's show has rattled India's notoriously lethargic government. In the western state of Rajasthan, an area with one of the worst gender ratios in India, the government promised action. After one of Khan's recent episodes, which exposed widespread medical malpractice, Khan was invited to address a Parliament hearing on healthcare.
"It's both ironic and amusing that it took an actor from Bollywood to shine a light on the yawning gaps in Indian journalism," political commentator Tavleen Singh wrote in a recent column.
But it is still too early to see any real policy changes. In the meantime, rights workers say Khan has used his celebrity status with remarkable effect.
Khan, 47, began his career in Bollywood in the late 1980s. During the last decade, he has fashioned a career path that combines the social consciousness of George Clooney with the hero appeal of Tom Cruise.
When producers initially asked Khan to host a TV game show, he refused. Instead, Khan set his sights on social reform. The talk show cemented his status as Bollywood's first true activist-star.
But for the most part, Khan keeps to the background on his show, only speaking when someone looks lost for words or to explain something to his audience.
"I want to do something dynamically different," Khan told Open magazine. "I continued to think about it, and slowly this idea was conceived."
Stalin K, a rights activist and documentary filmmaker who appeared in an episode about the country's caste system, said none of the issues raised on Khan's show were new, but the program gave them far more attention than the glancing treatment they usually got in India's media.
"It's a different level of engagement," he said. "The conversations are much deeper."
In one of his most recent episodes, Khan tackled the injustice of the Hindu caste system. Khan interviewed Kaushal Panwar, a university professor who had battled years of discrimination for being a dalit - the lowest Hindu caste. Panwar spoke about being taunted in her village school, about not being allowed to drink water from the same clay pot as upper caste children.
Over the course of the show, Khan interjected only a few times-mostly to give Panwar time to hold back her tears, and once to admonish his audience and viewers that "if I believe an accident of birth makes me superior to you, that is a mental illness."
Khan has also dealt with more universal issues, such as alcohol abuse and child sexual abuse. His alcohol abuse episode sent 60,000 phone calls flooding the Alcoholics Anonymous helpline, said the show's co-director Svati Chakravarty. Although these are more universal issues, India's conservative culture often makes them worse by remaining unwilling to deal with them.
But Khan's show has raised hope for change. Now, India can only wait to see if the program's momentum will translate into substantial reforms.
Despite the decisions that India's government will make in response to "Satyamev Jayate," Khan's work is vitally important, Stalin said.
"This amount of discussion in such a short amount of time is unprecedented."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.