Is this season of Bigg Boss too civilised for our liking?

Everyone loves a good fight, but the contestants this time are not game.

ByVikram Johri
Is this season of Bigg Boss too civilised for our liking?
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I don’t know what to make of it. A slew of posts in recent days have criticised Season 9 of Bigg Boss for being “boring”. Saurav Bhanot, writing in DailyO, said: “Low TRPs, bored viewers or a lacklustre list of contestants, whatever may the reason, Bigg Boss is clearly not happy. And through Salman, he’s made it evident his disappointment.” 

Another piece’s headline said it all: “I’d rather watch National Geographic than Bigg Boss 9.” Some other websites, too, made similar pronouncements. 

I like the show; I really do. This is perhaps the only edition that I am watching daily. The contestants seem to get along rather well most of the time. Are we to understand that anything that does not raise temperatures is “boring”? If that is the case, can we blame Bigg Boss when the makers of the show bring out contestants that make the nightly show downright filthy, as Dolly Bindra did in an earlier season? 

Consider the evidence. In this season, the majority of action has centred on three female contestants: Mandana, Kishwar and Rochelle. Each of them has had a blow hot-blow cold relationship with the other. Mandana and Kishwar did not get along initially but now seem to be thick friends. Rochelle has never been close to either of them but has also not had big showdowns like the other two did. Meanwhile, Keith, Rochelle’s boyfriend, has been a voice of sanity amidst all this — he was Mandana’s partner when the contestants were paired. 

The contestants have naturally had differences over some of the tasks. Last week, Mandana, Rochelle and Yuvika were sent to the Double Trouble room to figure out individually, based on pressing a buzzer, who would perform the day-to-day tasks in the house. Rochelle pressed the buzzer, while the other two did not, which made Mandana and Yuvika responsible for cleaning and cooking. 

This caused a tiff between Mandana and Rochelle, the first accusing the latter of trying to get out of doing household work, while Rochelle offering the argument that she did not want anyone apart from the three of them to be given the work since it was they who had broken the rules and had been sent to the Double Trouble room (If all this rather gives you a headache, bear with me; the rules inside Bigg Boss house are indeed complicated). 

Mandana and Rochelle exchanged words, but they did not swoop down on one another like eagles hunting for prey. There was no bleeping of their arguments; no evoking of mothers and daughters. What a pleasant surprise from the earlier seasons when the most minor infraction would let loose a barrage of invective! 

On Monday’s episode, a wild card entry, Rishabh Sinha, entered the Bigg Boss house, and from the word go, he was aggressive and in-your-face. It was clear that he had been expressly told by the producers to be up to no good inside. There are reports that another wild card entry will enter the house this week. In earlier seasons, the entry of new contestants in the middle of the season has been a cause of much consternation among older housemates since the newbies are looked upon as occupying turf. Perhaps the baser instincts of those already inside will finally be unleashed, but one hopes not. 

On Sunday’s show, Salman was at pains asking contestants to be “more interested”. When Rimi said she does not make an ideal contestant since she is not into drama and negativity, Salman corrected her and said that is not what the show requires. Which is plain disingenuous because that is exactly what the show has come to mean to most of its viewers: a non-stop slugfest. For Salman to keep harping on making things interesting is nothing but a suggestion to the housemates to shake things up, fight like dogs and “entertain” the viewer. 

For a while it seemed that Prince on the one hand and Suyash and Kishwar on the other will come to blows. But they arrived at an understanding. Prince and Suyash both toned down their aggression. (In Suyash’s case, his calm nature in recent days has been much commented upon.) Why is any of this bad? 

I am not for a moment suggesting that the housemates should be peachy with another and behave like family. Bigg Boss is a game show and everyone inside is playing to win. Bigg Boss, on its part, makes every effort to bring the housemates to blows. The makers of the show have repeatedly put the contestants in antagonistic positions so that they may react. And react the contestants have, only in ways we would expect civilised people to. If the show is about strategy, then being civil with the others can be an effective strategy too. If we are bored by this, perhaps the problem is with us, not the contestants. 

There is another problem with the built-in assumptions of the show. On Sunday’s episode, housemates were asked to vote on whether Keith is a “joru ka gulaam”, that is, whether he is henpecked to Rochelle. There are so many problems with this question. The question assumes that if a man is nice to his better half, listens to and comforts her, he is somehow not a “real” man. When Rochelle was upset about Mandan’s accusation, Keith comforted her most endearingly. He did not badmouth Mandana either. If this is the definition of being henpecked, perhaps more Indian men should be henpecked. 

It comes down to this. Some of us don’t find Bigg Boss entertaining because we want these strangers on the screen to act and behave in ways that embarrass them and make them a laughing stock. We want to be voyeurs living out our less-than-noble fantasies through them. When they don’t play ball, we call them “boring” and “lacklustre”. We don’t for a moment consider that if it was us in their place, we would want to do the same things they are doing and we would want to come across as dignified, not animals baying for the other’s blood. 

Yes, Bigg Boss is entertainment, but perhaps how we define entertainment tells us as much about us as it does about those we tune in to watch night after night.

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