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The Goody, the bad, who cares?

National versions of Big Brother, with their promotion of obscenity and ganging up have created unlikely celebs and given a new lease of life to fading stars and non-entities, writes Pratik Kanjilal.

columns Updated: Oct 09, 2009 14:33 IST

Goody (n. archaic)

Term of civility applied to a woman of humble rank. Shortened from ‘goodwife’, as hussy is from ‘housewife’.

This week, reality caught up with reality TV when Jade Goody pulled out of Bigg Boss, our version of the Big Brother reality game show, after learning that she has cancer. Since this happened two days after the cameras began to roll, it looked like a sneaky gambit to shake up the board. She had been involved in a race row with Shilpa Shetty in the Channel 4 version of Big Brother and in its Indian avatar, she was expected to kiss and make up with Shetty, who hosts Bigg Boss. Conspiracy buffs said the Goody move was played on purpose to rattle participants who had factored this into their survival strategy.

However, this isn’t the first time that the board’s been shaken. Last year, the Serbian version was terminated when three players who had left the house — and were to rejoin on New Year’s Eve — were killed in a car crash. Besides, Big Brother is just a big-ticket game. Shetty used it to gain international recognition and rekindle her career at home. Goody has leveraged her appearances to become a celebrity with her own TV shows, cut five fitness DVDs (Shetty has just one), publish an autobiography and launch a Superdrug perfume that was outsold only by the fragrances of Posh Spice and Kylie Minogue. Big Brother is plain business. Only idiots believe the spats and reconciliations are for real.

Big Brother is a brand of Endemol, a Dutch media company which specialises in producing simple, cheap reality and game shows for franchising to multichannel networks hungry for programming. There are about 70 national versions on air, though it has been criticised almost everywhere for promoting authoritarianism, obscenity and ganging up that makes World of Warcraft look like child’s play. The only major nation without a version of Big Brother is China. Over there, they have their hands full with the real thing.

However, it’s heartening to note that Big Brother isn’t Endemol’s bestseller. That honour goes to Deal or No Deal, which inculcates cupidity and runs in 100 countries, including India. And Fear Factor, made in India as Khatron ke Khiladi, wins far better reviews, if not better ratings. In India, Endemol’s biggest hit was The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, which ran on Star One.

As you can see, there’s no getting away from these guys. They’ve fanned out, hemmed us in and got us hooked. Resistance is useless. So there is a certain savage pleasure in musing that millions are probably staying awake nights wondering if Shilpa and Goody were going to kiss and make up. Goody, I say.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine