As I’ve said here before, I’m a fan of the first season of Bigg Boss, which I watched raptly, even as I questioned my own voyeurism. True, the shock value brought me in. But what compelled me to watch was the fact that contestants such as Bobby Darling, Deepak Parashar, Ravi Kissen and of course Rakhi Sawant, who were not part of mainstream identities or imaginations, brought a certain larger meaning to seemingly petty everyday conflicts — like with any really good novel or soap.
The differences of class, language, gender or sexual identity mirrored real difference in our society — which meant something more fundamental was at stake in an argument about who used someone’s favourite cup without asking.
That Rakhi Sawant was a ‘Marathi medium’ ‘item girl’ had a lot to do with the attitude of other contestants in the house. When this interaction played out, and brought under a magnifying glass the subtle slights and humiliation people recognise from their own lived experience, she became someone people identified with and championed.
This was also partly true of Kamal Raj Khan (KRK) in season three. His rabble rousing, while disproportionate, was nevertheless rooted in a story about being an outsider in terms of class, language and social position, which provided narrative intensity.
Despite their ugliness and hyped false sensation, shows of this kind, touch a chord also when they play out some of these real life dramas.
Not so for subsequent seasons of Bigg Boss. As the choice of contestants has become increasingly lack lustre, the show has lost its ability to mirror social tensions and now grapples with the crisis of being about a bunch of people pretend-shouting — a noisy incident on the road, as opposed to a tale of genuine conflict or even transgression.
More perplexingly, the F word has been trotted out — For Family. Really? Then why wouldn’t we watch any of the dozen soaps on offer?
Perhaps the meaning of this family is a little clearer in the recent mini-scandal around Sapna Bhavnani allegedly abusing Salman Khan, the show’s host.
Khan called Bhavnani a poster girl of Bombay hipster lifestyle, on her statement that she wasn’t in the show for money but “a message”, which she wasn’t able to articulate. This was interesting, because it does get to the heart of hipster hypocrisy which positions itself as being about an unspecified “something greater”, while being firmly tied to a well-funded bohemian lifestyle.
It became more interesting then, that she, in response, allegedly called the Family Bhai a serial woman-beater. So now we could have been getting somewhere in a war about
Except, this portion, while carefully placed in the gossip pages, was edited out of the show. Meanwhile, the web bristles with misogynistic comments in which people want to know if Bhavnani has actually seen Khan beat a woman. True enough — it’s all been rumour and not something we’ve witnessed. And it’s not on the show, so Khan never actually has to respond to the accusation, while Bhavnani must respond to his. A story without any stakes.
A bit like Arvind Kejriwal saying Reliance has got the Congress and BJP in its pocket. This too everyone says but no one has actually seen, so, the same way, politicians remain as unbothered as Salman Khan and Kejriwal does not tell a story with some real stakes.
Maybe that’s the family values bit — where everyone can be pulled up, but not the pater familias, whose patriarchy cannot be questioned. Bad stuff is not seen, spoken or heard, and ghar ki baat stays ghar mein.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.