Bigg Boss Tamil: A true reflection of 'culture'

Last Updated: Wed, Aug 02, 2017 11:10 hrs
Bigg Boss contestants

There is arguably no bigger irony than the public taking offence to a reality show for portraying various factions, principles, and people in "bad light".

Five weeks into its inception, Bigg Boss Tamil has been hit by a series of lawsuits and controversies, which usefully allow its audience to grow.

First came rage from the Hindu Makkal Katchi, which has made something of a career of taking Kamal Haasan to court. This time, they protested outside the Star Vijay TV head office, demanding that the show be banned. Bigg Boss Tamil was becoming a vehicle for the promotion of "Leftist ideologies", they alleged, and took offence to Kamal Haasan allegedly criticising Hinduism and no other religion.

Then, viewers complained that the dresses the women wore and the language used on the show was "against Tamil culture".

Over the last few weeks, though, the in-house drama has heightened, and it appeared the controversies within the house would likely subsume those outside.

On cue, the Puthiya Thamizhagam Party has filed a defamation case seeking Rs 100 crore as damage over what they termed a "casteist slur".

Notices have reportedly been issued to Kamal Haasan, the CEO and managing director of Endemol Shine India, and the general manager of Star Vijay TV as well as a contestant, Gayathri Raghuram, who had referred to another contestant as "cheri", which translates literally into "slum".

If the organisers are to be believed, the contestants are shut off from all news outside and so Gayathri Raghuram has no inkling of what awaits her when she is eliminated from the house. Yet, the show has become immensely popular, getting more viewers addicted everyday.

Perhaps it is worth examining why the franchise spawned Tamil and Telugu versions nearly a decade after the Hindi version and four years after the Kannada version.

Our burst of interest in voyeurism does seem appropriate at a time when the government is so keen to pry on us that we may soon need "voluntary" Aadhaar cards to use public restrooms.

The investment that goes into the show needs promised returns, and Kamal Haasan’s television debut is as good a bet for TRPs as any. Similarly, the Telugu version is hosted by Junior NTR. What has kept me tuning into the show, though, is a combination of other factors.

For one, the house and its intrigues remind me of every media organisation, every play rehearsal, and every theatre workshop of which I have ever been a part. And it is quite likely that everyone who watches the show can relate to a workspace that involved a pathological liar, a couple of divas, a couple of shrews, a bunch of sub-par comedians, and an unlimited supply of gossip-mongers.

For another, as the weeks go by and the politics of one-upmanship start playing out, the house becomes a microcosm of the world. Even at a time when everything is under scrutiny, when everything is recorded and captured and can be checked, people convince themselves that they cannot be caught out in a lie. The formation of cliques, the guiltlessness of selling someone out, the recasting of events to suit one’s convenience, comes to us – a day compressed into ninety minutes, our lives compressed into a voyeuristic show.

But most of all, the show interests me because it reflects everything that is wrong with the prevailing culture of the region to which most contestants belong.

Kamal Haasan has called out the casual sexism a couple of times, such as when a contestant defended his nearly attacking a woman contestant because she had “hurt his male ego”.

But even the women remark often that it is the “pombalainga” – Tamil for “females” – who cause the problem.

It is also fairly common for men to speak contemptuously of younger women, particularly those who do not speak Tamil well, and refer to them as “adhu” and “idhu”, pronouns which are usually reserved for inanimate objects or the lower orders of the food chain.

Addressing someone by name is considered an affront, and so they are supplied with titles.

In a game where humiliation appears to be the main aim, and the tasks get meaner every week, there is a notion that the “seniors” – essentially, people with some clout in the film industry – should not lose face, and so the younger lot have been victimising each other, building resentment.

Have these very principles not been reinforced in Tamil cinema over the decades?

Are they not adopted in politics?

Do they not find their way to public life?

How, I wonder, are these aspects of the show not a true reflection of the culture which it is allegedly insulting?

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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. 

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