View Finder: In defence of Bigg Boss
The writer talks about how watching Bigg Boss Tamil, isn't something to be looked down upon, and how life lessons can be learned from the reality show, hosted by Kamal Haasan.
We watch it in secrecy. We discuss it in private WhatsApp groups. For many people, it would be humiliating to be caught watching it. Should someone take a peek at our phone as we are watching it, we urgently switch windows. Society consumes it, but society also frowns upon it. You’d think I’m talking about porn, but no, I’m just talking about Bigg Boss Tamil.
Detractors call it voyeuristic. They dub it trashy entertainment. They allege that it is all scripted; they are convinced it’s forcing society back. They suspect it’s making us more judgmental. I had a video conversation with one of Bigg Boss Tamil Season 3’s most controversial personalities, Vanitha, and some suggested I was reducing myself by interviewing a Bigg Boss contestant. This criticism is hardly shocking, given that even someone of the stature of Kamal Haasan is getting it. He addressed this during one of his weekend episodes recently, and sought to distance himself from the limiting label, ‘intellectual’, should it be in conflict with his participation in Bigg Boss. All of this has necessitated this piece in defence of the show. So, yes, here’s why I think Bigg Boss Tamil is loads of fun, and don’t arrest me for saying this, why I think it’s useful too.
Ever wondered why we watch films, why we give away so willingly our hard-earned money in return for two fleeting hours of enjoyment? It’s because the stories in them free ourselves from the chains of our own reality. They force us into the shoes of others and draw our empathy. Inside the Bigg Boss household, there is no dearth for interesting stories and fascinating character arcs. Multiple stories co-exist while affecting each other. There are surprise cameos, tragic eliminations. Some stories are driven by a protagonist, many aren’t (in that sense, there’s an equality in this show that’s rarely found in cinema).
In Season 1, surrounded by characters with quite a few negative attributes, Oviyaa emerged as the protagonist. In Season 2… okay, skip that. Season 3 is notable for the absence of one central character, although Sandy and Cheran have staked their claim at various points. Much like in films, there are love tracks too. This season even features a classical love triangle that refuses to go away. What about comedy? There are many variations of it. Sandy and Kavin’s instinctive wordplay is better than what we get in many of our films. Slapstick comedy? Are you sure you have seen Mohan Vaidhya doing his Michael Jackson impression? Or how about that time when he taught everyone opera? These aren’t merely flaky stories, mind you. Some of the conversations explode with ethical conundrums. Was Meera right in alleging violent behaviour from Cheran, or perhaps it was Cheran who was right in defending himself from a seeming sexual harassment allegation? Here’s the real clincher. With films, we willingly suspend disbelief. Here, you have to do no such thing. It’s all real.
Good stories are remarkable for their ability to cause self-improvement. It’s the same with this reality show too if you are so inclined. As the host Kamal Haasan keeps saying, it’s a show designed to hold a mirror up to you. These are real people, like you and me, doing and saying the things you and I will likely say under such conditions. By poring over the finer details of their behaviour, by examining our own reactions to them, we understand them better, and in the process, ourselves.
Take Oviyaa from Season 1. Her defining characteristic, one that fetched her an army of followers, was her refusal to engage in gossip about people in their absence. We have all engaged in idle chatter and passed private judgments about other people. Season 1 and Oviyaa helped show how unattractive a trait this is to behold. This is a big reason why the likes of Gayathri and Julie came across as conniving schemers.
Regardless of whether you like them or not, there is something to learn from each contestant. From some, you learn how to be. The importance of creating laughs out of nothing, from Sandy. The refreshing refusal to be diplomatic, from Saravanan. The wonderful ability to maintain composure at all times, from Cheran. From others, you learn how not to be. The insecurity of Mohan Vaidhya, the inability to hear opposing points of view from Vanitha, the inconsistent behaviour of Meera, the constant self-pity and bemoaning from Sakshi and Abhirami... Each person offers crucial lessons for your self-improvement. Above all, at a time when people have their deepest, most private relationships with their digital gadgets, Bigg Boss is a show that gets us observing real people, that has us clinging on to their every gesture, every word. It’s not quite a reclamation of humanity, no, but it’s comforting to note during these times of fleeting memes and forgotten issues that there’s a show that has us people-watching again, and having us stay with them for a reasonable period of time. Watching is a commitment, as funny as it sounds. It’s an hour every day, and it reaffirms that there are still people interested in… people.
These days, much of what we do is so we have something to say. This is why the richest companies are those that offer platforms for us to express ourselves. This urge to connect, to express is as old as humanity itself. Our civilisation has always and will always survive on conversations. A show like Bigg Boss offers you a dozen starting points for conversation each day. These can range from the trivial (“Who do you think Kavin really likes?”) to the profound (“Can you believe that Saravanan’s admission that he used to grope women went uncontested in the show? Isn’t this evidence of social apathy for such issues?”).
Was Saravanan right in getting infuriated by Cheran’s criticism of his acting ability? Was Cheran right in feeling disrespected by Saravanan’s language? Even the host Kamal Haasan isn’t insulated from such inquiry. Wasn’t he, for instance, wrong in only attacking Meera when she shared discomfort about Cheran’s rough touch? Think about it, and you will see that these aren’t just Bigg Boss contestant issues. They don’t exist in a vacuum; they are reflective of the problems of the real world. You could argue that the show is a microcosm of our world… a world without digital distractions. It’s both terrifying and beautiful.
At a time when people are frightened about social media judgments, let it be said now, loud and clear, that nobody needs to feel ashamed about their entertainment choices. Your admiration of Fifty First Dates is not inferior to your friend’s admiration of Citizen Kane. Your interest in Bigg Boss is in no way inferior to your friend’s interest in Masterchef Australia. Your habit of watching those regional dance programmes in which children dress up as adults… okay, you know what. That cannot be excused. Do stop watching that.