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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London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

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For more information on special offers on flights to London and other destinations in the UK, see here.

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