Seven years after 'Big Brother' debuted in Netherlands, the series hits India. Of course, it's been suitably 'Indianised'.
a) The name has been changed to 'Bigg Boss' . I guess the Orwellian connotation of 'Big Brother' would be lost in a country where bade bhaiyya is generally a benvolent and I-will-take-care-of-you type figure.
And the extra 'g' in Big is a nod to numerology - a fixation in Indian television that refuses to go away!
b) Instead of ordinary unknowns, we have a houseful of small time actors , fading/ faded models and a couple of novelty items. So it's essentially an Indian version of Big Brother VIP.
Now this I think was a smart move because until now, so called 'reality shows' have really been talent shows. Indian Idol, Fame Gurukul, Sa re ga ma - all of them promise to make a star out of an unknown quantity.
That's a sentiment the Indian viewer can identify with, and the tears and drama that go along with the format are an added bonus. But at the end of the day, the person who wins is judged on performance. Kisi ko life mein aagey badhne ka chance milta hai..
Big Brother/ Bigg Boss is a far more faltu concept - it's pure voyeurism. For viewers to get hooked to a bunch of unknowns would not be impossible but would be far more risky from a TRP point of view. Here, when you cast a Rakhi Sawant and a Bobby Darling not to mention Carol 'LIFW wardrobe malfunction' Gracias ) you know idiotic antics will occur.
And there - you have your 'real life soap opera'.
The question is - have they been given 'scripts' or is it all completely natural? Well, as the official website declares:
Bobby is perhaps Bigg Boss’s most controversial contestants. Openly gay he is sure to court much attention through his loud personality and his need for constant attention. One thing if for sure, if an over exuberant Bobby Darling starts arguing with a tired and cross Rakhi Sawant, then fireworks will fly and the Bigg Boss producers might just have some entertainment coming their way.
That’s probably why he was invited on in the first place.
But I suspect the more staid participants have been given broad outlines of the characters they must play. Although not actual lines to deliver.
So Aryan Vaid may be a flirt in real life but he's also probably been instructed to keep up the good work. The bit about him 'proposing' to Anupama Varma, and Kashmira Shah's sob story of how she used to get a 'rotten orange' for Xmas because her mother was too poor... methinks yeh sab pehle se hi planned tha.
So yes, I sat through an entire episode last night. And to be honest, the two specimens - Rakhi Sawant and Bobby Darling - were the most interesting. In a gosh, how-much-more-stupid can they get?
I know now that the Rakhi babe has two tattoos - one on her arm and one on her stomach. She takes her role as an item girl really seriously and is not averse to dancing in front of a cow in the hope that the animal will get excited enough to give out some milk (one of the tasks assigned by Bigg Boss to the contestants).
Bobby on the other hand is a beautiful porcelain doll with a gruff voice. He/ she/ whatever has appealed to viewers not to be voted out because he/ she really needs the money for a sex change operation.
Not to worry because Deepakji is really not likable from any point of view and will definitely be shown out.
Expect some controversy!
Although Big Brother has been a hit in close to 70 countries, there are cultural nuances when it comes to 'success':
Some versions have been filled with sex-crazed housemates, whereas others decided to base the conflict within their programs around difficult or romantic personalities, as in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, Philippines or Spain.
With the passing of time, it has been demonstrated that the most successful versions were the ones that emulated a soap opera, whereas the versions where the principal attraction was sex have been eliminated, as in Hungary or Poland.
The amount of sex shown on the televised versions around the world depends on local and national television censorship rules, with some countries editing out all sex and nudity, while others broadcast what is considered to be borderline pornography.
Now we know in India, sex will definitely NOT be shown but am sure it will occur and be alluded to in some way. The participants were all asked to take HIV tests before the show began to create some hype on that front, you see.
Controversy is the best way to raise awareness - and TRPs. And around 4-5 weeks into the series I am sure one will be created. The likes of Sushma Swaraj and Pratibha Naithani need just a little bit of flame to get down on the streets and start a 'fire'.
So needle them gently with some sex or nudity on air and voila, they will demand a ban on the show. "Yeh Bhartiya sanskriti ke khilaaf hai" - and there you have it. Millions of eyeballs will immediately be added on to Bigg Boss!
Leap of faith
At the end of the day, Sony - which is now trailing behind both Star and Zee - had to take a risk. Their last 'success' was Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin, since then nothing has really clicked.
Zee has taken the route of beating Star at its saas-bahu game. Goodbye Parvati and Tulsi, every auntie I know is currently hooked to the saga of Saloni (Saat Phere) and Jai/ Bani (Kasamh Se).
I caught an episode of Saat Phere last night. It rivals Chronicles of Narnia in the fantasy department. Mohan Bhandari is sitting on the sofa when the bahu comes and asks, 'Papaji mujhe bachche ke liye nappies kharidni hain. Kuch paise chahiye".
Papaji looks away. Neena Gupta aunty pipes in,"Hum bachche ke liye potliyaan silenegey... Aise hi nahin itne bachche bade kiye".
Apparently the family does not have enough money to buy nappies but the women sit there, resplendent in silks and laden with jewellery in a house whose living room rivals the lobby of a 3 star hotel.
So the choice is fantasy staged in true blue soaps or 'reality' staged in a neo-soap like Big Boss.
I think the youth of India will prefer the latter. It remains to be seen however, if they will manage to snatch away the television remote.
Bottomline: Bigg Boss may be trivial, perfectly "yeww" in parts. But even discussing how much you supposedly hate it... is fodder for canteen conversation. And in a have-voice-will-give-opinion era, no one wants to be left out!
Sony Entertainment Television, Mon-Fri, 10 pm