The tenth season of the reality show on Colors has introduced a twist on an established premise: the makers have introduced the concept of celebrities and commoners (nicknamed Indiawale). Seven decently well-known faces from the television and movie worlds masquerading as “celebs” share space with eight members of the so-called Indiawale or the common public. One of them, Priyanka Jagga, has already been shown the door in the first week.
This being Bigg Boss, the members who represent Indiawale seem to have been selected with an eye on the television rating points meter. So there is the brash hothead Manveer Gurjar and Manu Punjabi living up to the jock stereotype. There is the bespectacled Naveen Prakash, who can be sly and underhand. And, oh, there is Swami Omji.
Of course, this is not the first time the luxurious Bigg Boss house in Lonavla has locked up a religious figure. The fifth season saw Swami Agnivesh enter the house for three days, where he counselled housemates on the benefits of yoga. Omji, though, is not like Agnivesh. In fact, he’s unlike any other Bigg Boss contestant before him – and that is saying a lot.
The self-styled godman has, in his brief tenure, already claimed that he has saved the country from a missile attack through this tantric powers, informed host Salman Khan that he will use his powers to find the Bollywood star a “perfect wife”, boasted to Deepika Padukone about how he assaulted Elizabeth Hurley, forcibly held and threatened contestant Lopamudra Raut to keep her mouth shut about a secret of his, asked Gaurav Chopra to stay away from another female housemate as she was “characterless”, and even revealed that he will star in a Rs 100 crore biopic of himself. Phew.
There’s something unmistakably disturbing about the self-styled godman. Unlike, say, Bindra or Sawant, Omji rarely loses his cool. He delivers his barrage of misogynistic comments not in outbursts of anger (though even that is hardly forgivable), but in calm, methodical tones.
Omji has quite a personal history. He has assaulted a fellow female panellist on a television news debate, issued death threats to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, and threatened an environmental activist for opposing Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s World Cultural Festival. Not to mention having cases filed against him for theft and hoarding arms.
Considering that Omji has fought with almost every person inside the house, he has not even been nominated for eviction in the first two weeks. The reasons are tactical. Contestants seek to eliminate stronger competition. Omji, despite his transgressions, is not considered a serious competitor. The housemates have started treating him like the resident crank, to be laughed at but not taken seriously.
Except, that is dangerous. Granted that no one watches Bigg Boss to learn life lessons. People watch the show for the controversy, the sparring and the odd romantic spark. Conflict is a key driver, and in Omji, the tenth season has a trump card.
But Omji also brings to the controversial series a noxious cocktail of misogyny and religion. The contestants laugh off Omji’s extremely problematic assertions, and he shows no signs of turning over a new leaf. Having blatant sexism being thrown around on national television without any sort of checks is troubling, whichever way you see it. Let’s hope Omji gets nominated soon and makes an early exit. Because this is one entertainment device we could do without.