The Bigg Boss house and the extrovert ideal
The Bigg Boss house, like the world itself, isn’t a great place for introverts. We dig into this idea while in conversation with actors and mental health professionals
It’s not exactly a kind world out there for introverts. Writer Susan Cain, in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, speaks of how extroverted character is held up as an ideal in our world, and how there is “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in spotlight.” Watching the Bigg Boss show, across languages, gain in popularity and its loud, dancing participants turned to celebrities, it’s hard not to feel that this ideal is further drummed into our society. Watching this season’s Bigg Boss Tamil contestants berate quiet participants like Aajeedh and Shivani, you have to ask what it must be like for an introvert to be part of a programme that thrives in showmanship. Actor Janani (best known for her roles in Avan Ivan and Thegidi), who was a part of Bigg Boss Tamil 2, realised quite quickly that the show isn’t a great place for an introvert. “You have to be loud all the time, and you have to talk. That’s what the show is about, that’s what it sells, and that’’s what the show’s audience expects from a participant.”
In Bigg Boss Tamil 4, two contestants, Shivani and Aajeedh, were nominated for eviction in the initial weeks because they were just too quiet. An oft-repeated criticism from well-meaning contestants would go, “You have still not opened up” or “You still haven’t forged a bond”. Living in a space surrounded by cameras that telecast you to a million people must make it doubly harder for those who are not used to being gregarious. Add this to the pressures of being aware that the channel is the sole authority on what is to be shown and not. Perhaps tellingly, more than in any previous season of this show, this season’s contestants show constant awareness of what may be turned as a ‘promo’ and are comfortable interacting with the camera in a way we haven’t seen before. “Much like many others, I too formed many opinions on the basis of what I saw of participants during Bigg Boss Season 1. It’s only after I participated in the show myself that I realised that a lot goes into the editing. When you condense 24 hours into an hour, what you end up seeing are the extroverted portions,” says Janani. Her statement on the editing seems to resonate with contestants from other Bigg Boss shows as well. Actor David John, a former Bigg Boss Malayalam contestant—who doesn’t identify as an introvert—points out that the show’s editing can sometimes do the opposite as well. “All my friends know that I'm sufficiently extroverted, but they made me look like an introvert on the show. They showed me as this silent type who remained like a shadow,” he says. It seems that for this show, even an extrovert isn’t extroverted enough.
Actor Siva Balaji calls it a game where only the fittest ones survive. The introverted Bigg Boss Telugu Season 1 winner says that there’s constant pressure within the house. “I am introverted by nature and take my sweet time to be friends with people. It took me two weeks to get used to the conditions. Some may feel isolated, emotional and dejected. But ultimately, it's the survival of the fittest.” And it appears that Siva Balaji managed to adapt to the show.
The expectation of the Bigg Boss shows arise from the knowledge that brooding doesn’t make for great television. Hence, the pressure from the show to be someone you are not, and the expectation—emphasised by the host Kamal Haasan himself in Bigg Boss Tamil—that you “make the most of the opportunity”. In other words, be loud, get seen.
For an introvert, this is easier said than done. Hemalatha Swaminathan, Psychologist and Founder of 4swithin, a city-based behavioural training institute, says that forcing introverts to be extroverts is quite comparable to the discomfort that extroverts feel when forced to be alone, or blocked from the spotlight. She shares that quite a few of her clients are those from the film industry. “In the industry, it’s not just about your talent. It’s about the pressure of portraying yourself in a certain way. While extroverts may be able to cope with this, it’s demanding and exhausting for other types of people, who struggle to deal with it.”
Some, from the film industry, have made their peace with who they are. Malayalam actor Sudev Nair declares that he has started owning his introversion and that he’s now comfortable with it. The actor, known for films like My Life Partner, Anarkali, and Abrahminte Santhathikal, agrees that there’s pressure on people like him to be someone they are not. “People around me have always said that I should be more extroverted and put myself out there, and network and socialise... I could never do this, and today, I’m glad I never succumbed to the pressure and let my work do the talking instead. Luckily, it worked out for me.”
Networking is a mandatory requirement in the TV and film industry, and this pressure is rampant in the Bigg Boss house too, whose format itself makes it crucial that you establish relationships under the full blast of the cameras and in limited time—and hopefully in a way that makes it to the edited segment. Sudev has come to notice a contradiction. “It’s a myth that successful film people spend much time partying and networking. Successful people are actually focussed on their work.”
However, Janani says that for an actor who’s looking to establish themselves, it’s important to possess recall value. “You have to keep making contacts, and you need to keep doing PR work. That’s the only way that a director will think of you when they have a role. I don’t do this though,” she admits. “I have made my peace with who I am.”
Hemalatha says that not all is lost for introverts and that with just a few tricks, they can manage certain expectations without feeling pressurised to change their very nature. “In a pressurising situation, we start copying somebody else, and when we do that, conflict arises between who we are and the personality we copy. That becomes stressful. So, with certain skills and mentorship, this other personality will become like a hat. You can wear it when you need and drop it when you don’t. It doesn’t change who you are.”
Susan Cain also touches upon this in her novel while talking about Professor Brian Little’s Free Trait Theory, which states that we are born culturally endowed with certain personality traits, but we can and do act out of character in the service of “core personal projects.” Hemalatha even suggests that it is counter-productive for introverts to look to change who they are, in order to better survive in this world. It feels almost like advice that a couple of the Bigg Boss Tamil participants could well use. “Nothing is worth the cost of your self. Once you start prioritising yourself, it doesn’t matter what anybody expects, or what the industry expects. You may suffer some losses—money, projects, whatever else—but you would not have lost what’s most important: yourself. Nothing is worth more than who you are.”
Janani has realised that succumbing to the pressure of becoming an extrovert is without gain. “Such a forced transformation is not beneficial,” she says. Writer Cain, in fact, says that “Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal, are like women in a man’s world.” Perhaps with this in mind, hopefully, some of us will be kinder to those in the Bigg Boss Tamil house who would otherwise be quickly labelled as ‘boring’. As one of the contestants said of Aajeedh, “Like some of us are comfortable in our speech, he is comfortable in his silence. Let him be.”
(With inputs from Sajin Shrijith and Murali Krishna)