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Monday, Sep 23, 2019

In defence of Salman Khan’s Bigg Boss: It’s like a game of chess, played by monkeys

So why do you watch Bigg Boss? Every year, for three months, it takes over your life. And you let it. But like every addiction, it needs to be addressed.

tv Updated: Oct 03, 2017 14:04 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
This is Salman Khan’s sixth year as host of Bigg Boss.
This is Salman Khan’s sixth year as host of Bigg Boss.

Bigg Boss 11 is about to begin, and with it, it will bring three months of bliss for its fans. But after three months, it will be over. For many, just that sentence alone is enough to induce a quick panic. It’s an on again, off again relationship that’s been going on for a decade now. And now, it’s off again. Almost.

So why do you watch Bigg Boss? Every year, for three months, it takes over your life. And you let it. But like every addiction, it needs to be addressed. Because right about now, the withdrawal is kicking in. Some may turn to old YouTube videos. Some may watch recaps. Others may even read about it, like that makes any sense. But everyone wants to fill that void. They want their daily fix. And for that, they turn to the next best thing. Which is lucky, if you’re the next best thing.

Think about it. For a show to have this kind of impact on the lives of such a diverse crowd, it has to be undeniably special. Granted, it doesn’t have to be intelligent or high-brow to be special. But that’s the point. It is.

The biggest reason for its – for lack of a better term – controversial reputation, ironically, is the kind of contestants it attracts. And that’s not the fault of the show. They need the eyeballs. For that, they cast their show like a circus. And the essence of the programme suffers for it. Because Bigg Boss is hardly a circus. Instead, it’s like a game of chess. And they’ve sat monkeys down to play it.

But as with everything else, even that has mellowed with age. Gone are the days of Rakhi Sawant and KRK. Bigg Boss is maturing. Its attention-seeking teenage years are behind it. Now, all it wants to do is settle down.

Big Brother, as George Orwell proposed it in 1984, resembles an all-seeing totalitarian dictator. And unlike Dr TJ Eckleberg from The Great Gatsby, it needs just one eye. Science fiction has often dreamed up similar scenarios. Charlie Brooker, the British mad-genius satirist routinely invokes the Big Brother concept in his work. That White Bear episode of Black Mirror depicted an unsettlingly dystopian future, one where the whole world is a voyeur, their camera phones always filming something.

Even murder. The Jim Carrey film The Truman Show put an existential spin on the same concept. Apple, on the other hand, in its classic Ridley Scott-directed ad, put a capitalist one.

And then there are the obvious parallels that can be drawn about the current climate of mass surveillance and invasion of privacy. But oddly, that’s not how we Indians look at Bigg Boss, as we call it. Like the spiritual creatures that we are, for us Bigg Boss is more like God. Not in a ‘oh we look up to you’ kind of way. Bigg Boss, eye and all, is simply God.

And he controls everything, including who he lets in and out of his domain. Only two kinds of people enter the show: Those who want to be someone, and those who used to be someone. Both are visibly desperate. Short of selling their bodies, they are willing to sing, dance even humiliate themselves for their supper. Such is the attraction of the Bollywood dream. They even turn their backs on large lumps of cash because even a glimmer of the alternative, the life they all dream of, is enough. Where else will you see this?


The only person who even marginally comes close to wielding the godlike power of Bigg Boss is host Salman Khan. The intensity of fear, not respect, but fear that he inspires is a sight to behold. The elephant in the room being that every contestant dreams of one day joining show business, and they all turn to Salman bhai for help. He is the fairy godmother of their dreams and he is the genie that can grant them all their wishes. They saw it happen with Armaan Kohli and Sana Khan. And they want in on some of that action. So they sing, they dance and they even humiliate themselves to make it all a reality.

Essentially, that’s what the show represents. It is a place where dreams come to life. It is a land of fantasy, where, for three months, dreamers get a chance to glimpse the lives they can live. Most of them will fade away into oblivion. They will be forgotten. But such is the optimism of Bigg Boss. It’s all worth it in the end. Even the audiences are living vicariously through their favourites, who, over the course of the season, become surrogates.

It’s more than just a show. Currently, there are 56 separate versions of it running all over the world. They have Big Brother in Kosovo for God’s sake. They have one in Lithuania. As of this year, India has three Bigg Boss versions all to itself - Tamil and Telugu in addition to the Hindi.

It all began as a sociological experiment to bring people from different walks of life under the same roof, basically throw away the key, and see what happens. The house becomes a metaphor for the world we live in, a closed ecosystem of sorts, a Darwinian rat race to the top. Alliances are made, as are enemies. Sometimes, real love blossoms. And in eviction, there is death. Life after Bigg Boss is spoken about almost as an afterlife where heaven means success and hell indicates the lack of it.

Bollywood films are often accused of lifting ideas from the rest of the world. But for some mysterious reason, that’s not the case with Bigg Boss. We all know it’s essentially a spinoff, a tiny insect in the bigger picture of bigger bosses. But no one cares about appeasing the white people this time. There is a proud sense of ownership when it comes to Bigg Boss and its fans. It’s their show. They vote for the contestants. They vote them out. They dictate proceedings. Next year, they will even get to participate. This season, its 10th, the show opened its gates to the common man. Finally, the true purpose of the show, which was to put people from different backgrounds together, was fulfilled in India as well. And for a country like ours, where such divisions are still very much a problem, this show bravely attempted to address them and perhaps even solve them.

The only time people come together in such unity for a common cause is maybe for sports. Or when a natural disaster happens. It’s like Alan Moore wrote about in his legendary graphic novel Watchmen. Humanity comes together only when it is required to fight a common foe. It was the Atom bomb in World War II. What remains to be seen is whether Bigg Boss is unifier or the alien enemy. Whatever it is, whatever it may turn out to be, it’s not as stupid as it looks. Like every maths prodigy who pretended to like football, it has only dumbed itself down.

Follow @htshowbiz for more
The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Published: Oct 01, 2017 16:11 IST