Bigg Boss can be seen as a representation of the audience’s voyeuristic tendencies. But what is it that made this reality show work over the years? Chahak Mittal talks to people who were a part of the show and searches for the answers
Sofia Hayat filing a legal complaint against Armaan Kohli. Delnaaz Irani and Rajiv Paul discussing their marital problems. People making out and even peeing in public — the list of controversies and scandals that the various editions of Big Boss house has generated is never-ending. And outrageous enough to shake us out of our predictable sensibilities and embolden us to accept the crassness of life with ease.
So what works for Big Boss? A clear vicarious pleasure of peeping into celebrity lives and finding them, even if marketed cleverly, fighting ordinary travails like each one of us. Besides, what could be a better soap opera than one involving dramatic emotions of real life characters? And one where a disembodied voice, representative of the aspirational audience which believes in resetting the moral compass of participants, has control.
While Indian TV content has had a number of reality shows like Roadies, Splitsvilla and other food-based or talent-hunt shows, nothing seems to come close to the voyeuristic and sadistic “peep” pleasure that people seem to get from the show anchored by Salman Khan. While the others do bag a space in people’s hearts, Bigg Boss remains on top of “prime time” favourites. However, the appeal of the show has dipped in recent years, from 2013 to be precise, what with the spurt in social media penetration and new platforms becoming the more immediate and gettable vehicle of self-expression. Social media depth rose from 63 million users in 2013 to 226.06 million now. What this did is build a culture of self-awareness, considering the growing obsession with and explosion of photo-sharing apps. So people are more interested in building their own celebrity modules of living and marketing their individual stories. But the projection of assumed celebrityhood needs a reference point for flamboyance. And Bigg Boss has given that drama that would make anybody sit up and take notice. Or perhaps, the real life drama in other people’s lives gives the audience a sense of satisfaction that their own is less troubled.
Shilpa Shinde, winner of the Bigg Boss Season 11, believes that the show endures because in the end it is all about learning life lessons and the way one perceives it. She says, “Frankly speaking, I used to hate the show because I was never aware of its content. But even though it gets really controversial at times, one can learn a lot from it. Here I am talking about both — the people who are inside the house as well as the audience.”
She recalls her own experience from the show: “In the previous season, I showcased my love, anger and all my emotions, which are very natural. You don’t need to act here. It all goes with the flow. Also, popularity and TRP spiked in parts during the last season because the contestants had a human aspect to each of them. We used to fight, quarrel but also make up with each other. I think many of them also learnt a lot from their journey in the show. The concept of the show is like an exam from which you get some takeaways of self-assessment.”
Indeed, you see many friendships hurting and losing their sheen as well as blossoming inside the house, making it a difficult space to live in. But what is their relevance? What can capturing personal relationships on camera and showcasing them teach? Interestingly while the show has invited a lot of criticism on account of the behaviour of many of its past contestants, Shilpa says, “People and even children should watch the show because they also need to know that this is the way we live our lives, complete with warts. It is not at all about the lifestyle of celebrities but about how strangers interact with each other when they live together. As it is based on human tendencies, people relate to it.”
She tries to explain the difference between temporary and permanent relationships. “For instance, you travel in a train, you behave nicely with strangers for a few minutes. After a while, you tend to get irritated or annoyed. It depends on how you take it. The glass is half empty or half full, it’s just your vision.” Shilpa loves the show and says that “people have been dying to watch it again. I wish and hope this one is bigger than last year.”
Others concur. Benafsha Soonawalla, an ex-contestant, finds it an entertaining show no matter what it brings. She says, “Most people like to watch it because it allows them to step back and be a spectator of life as it is.”
Arshi Khan, model and an ex-contestant of the show, looks at it as the show that would never die simply because it has now become somewhat of a habit. “No matter at whatever time Bigg Boss gets aired, be it at 8 pm, 9 pm, 10 pm or even 11 pm, it will always become the new prime time. The audience would watch it even at 6 pm simply because it is the biggest slice of life platform. There is where people can unburden themselves. Let’s see what level it reaches this time in its new season.” This despite the fact that from a TRP of 3.81 in Season 6, it dipped to 2.9 in Season 9.
However, as the show also portrays communication and human relations on a continuous basis, there could always be some serious unpalatable issues related to the same. For some participants, the panning was too much to absorb. Sangram Singh, wrestler and contestant of the Bigg Boss Season 7, didn’t have quite a lot to say that would glorify its concept. He says, “It was a mistake that I was a part of the show and I don’t want to comment any further.” Sehban Azim of Tujhse Hai Raabta, says, “I don’t relate to Bigg Boss. If you confine 10 people in one house and torture them by not giving them food or luxuries, then they will eventually start fighting with each other.” In other words, it is a set-up and in the quest of winning that game, you get fake characters. But then, in an age of image-consciousness, who is putting out a real life story without some gloss?