Reality TV

Salman Khan is consistently good on ‘Bigg Boss’, but the reality show has lost its way

When the host is the best thing about the current season, you know it’s time for a drastic rethink.

Say what you like about Salman Khan, but one thing is for sure – the movie star will never win any prizes for being inscrutable.

The 51-year-old actor wears his heart on the sleeve – and this is never more apparent than in Bigg Boss, the reality television show on Colors that Khan is hosting for the sixth time round. Khan appears on Weekend Ka Vaar, as the weekend episodes are called. The first few minutes of the Indian version of the Dutch show Big Brother, in which various people are corralled into a house in Lonavla for several weeks, are enough to set the tone for what is to follow.

On good days, Khan is happy-go-lucky and willing to engage in banter with the housemates. On other days, he does not appear to be in the best of moods. Om Puri’s sudden death seems to have affected the superstar one recent weekend, and he shared with the assembled housemates the reason behind his low spirits.

Whatever your feelings about Khan, his presence enlivens the small screen. Despite the number of times Khan has been the Bigg Boss host since it began airing in India in 2006, there are barely any signs of monotony. Khan manages to keep excitement levels up every weekend, interacting with the housemates and scolding and encouraging them week in and week out.

The tenth season of the long-running show has seen a different Salman Khan – one who has been trying to rein himself in, check his temper and ensure that he does not lose control. It is a rarely seen side of Khan and not one we particularly enjoy, but then you can’t really blame him. Presiding over one of the worst seasons in the show’s history can do that to you.

Bigg Boss season 10.
Bigg Boss season 10.

The current season has crossed all limits of acceptability even for die-hard followers. The season has seen the vilest ever contestant: a self-proclaimed godman who is misogynistic to the core, potty-mouthed, and capable of delivering threats at any given moment. Swami Omji was finally kicked out of the show after spraying his urine on his fellow contestants.

Priyanka Jagga, who was eliminated in the first week itself for her sheer nastiness, was brought back as a wild card entry. The entrepreneur delivered the choicest of abuses and was finally, in something that has never happened before, dramatically thrown out of the house after getting into a spat with Khan. He told her in no uncertain terms, “Leave my house”.

Bigg Boss has never been a stranger to controversy, but the current season has tried to get mileage out of sleazy and morally troubling behaviour. The show has repeatedly changed the rules to favour specific contestants. Jagga was eliminated through an audience vote in the first week, a clear sign of her unpopularity with fans. Yet, a few weeks later, she was brought back solely to incite more fights and keep the ratings ticking.

Priyanka Jagga.
Priyanka Jagga.

But Jagga’s antics paled in comparison to Swami Omji. Despite the rules stating that no housemate can leave the house except for an emergency, the godman seemed to exit and re-enter multiple times. Omji’s frequent getaways became a standing joke inside the house when one of his fellow contestants, Manveer Gurjar, told him that he appeared to disappear right in time for the nominations.

Despite Om’s blatant displays of misogyny and violence, he was repeatedly let off with slaps on the wrist. He was even given the opportunity to deduct Rs 25 lakh from the total prize money on the show in exchange of being immune from nomination – an opportunity he gleefully took. Only one conclusion can be drawn from this unusual largesse: the show’s makers, Endemol India, are twisting their own rules to manufacture as much fake drama as they can. Of course, this is a reality show, not a court of law. Yet, every game show has its rules, which add to the enjoyment of the entire spectacle.

As the season heads towards its finale, it is time that Endemol and the Colors television channel take a good hard look at what made the show popular in the first place: the fact that it played out like a controlled psychological experiment, one in which the reactions of the housemates seemed genuine rather than manufactured. It’s not enough to foist Salman Khan with the responsibility of being the showstopper of Bigg Boss. Even his bulky shoulders seem unable to shoulder the burden.

Salman Khan and Swami Omji on Bigg Boss 10.
Salman Khan and Swami Omji on Bigg Boss 10.
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As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.