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.
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.
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.