Voyeurism unpalatable to Indian audience
In all the fuss over Shilpa Shetty and Celebrity Big Brother (about which: enough, already!) have you noticed how little we hear about our own home-grown Celebrity Big Brother? Oh yes, they don’t call it that in India.
But even though it has been retitled Big Boss, it’s exactly the same show, made to the same format by the same production company (Endemol).
When Big Boss first started on Sony, there was a slight buzz about the participants and their relationships. Was Aryan Vaid really involved with Anupama Verma? Was Rakhi Sawant at all involved with the human race? Who told Carol Gracias that she knew how to speak Hindi? And so on.
But despite a variety of desperate tricks (the re-introduction of Rakhi Sawant, the attempt to portray Kashmira Shah as a trouble- making vamp, etc.) the show has failed to capture the public imagi- nation.
The ratings may be solid and respectable but it’s hardly a Top 50 show. More to the point, even those people who did talk about it when it launched have now moved on.
Contrast the plodding low profile of Bigg Boss with the grip that Celebrity Big Brother has on the UK’s national imagination. Whatever your views on the rights and wrongs of the Shilpa affair, there is no denying that it became the issue of the week in the UK.
It was page one in nearly every newspaper, TV bulletins led with the story, ministers weighed in with their own opinions, and the poll to evict a housemate (which resulted in Jade Goody being thrown out) became a mini General Election.
It’s tempting to say that Big Boss has not had the same impact because it’s not as well-made. But, having seen bits of both shows, I have to say that this is simply not true. Big Boss is as good or bad as Big Brother.
So, what makes the difference then?
I am rapidly veering around to the conclusion that Indians are less voyeuristic than Brits. Contrast their celebrity-hungry, scandal-filled popular papers with ours. Except for a brief phase in the 1970s when Stardust gave film stars a hard time, the Indian press has been content to be gentle with celebrities of all kinds.
Politicians are merely the most obvious examples: we never write about their private lives. But even the film industry now has it easy. All coverage is fawning and syrupy. Would so many gay heroes have remained under the covers in the West? They would have all been outed by now.
Star affairs hardly get reported these days. When a happy event occurs, the inconvenient past is always photo-shopped out of the pictures: did you find any mention of Karishma or Salman in all the breathless Abhishek-Aishwarya coverage?
This has significant consequences for reality TV. In the West, there are two kinds of reality shows. One lot, like Big Brother or Survivor, depends on voyeurism. Viewers want to see people up close especially during candid moments. The second category is the competition, like American Idol or Who Wants to be a Millionaire?