The circus is back in town, complete with bearded ladies, clowns, snake charmers, ring masters and dancing ladies of all shapes and sizes. Bigg Boss 5 is already showing signs of living up to its earlier avatars, and promises as much sleaze, catfighting and all-round mayhem.
Now, the good stuff first. The hosts are surprisingly fabulous. Salman Khan is just a natural on TV because he's doing what he does best: play himself. Playing a thinly scripted version of himself may get repetitive in movies but it works like a charm on Bigg Boss because he's a true-blue entertainer, funny, self-deprecating, sceptical. And he truly is embarrassed when the ladies gush over him.
This time round, he's got boozehound Sanjay Dutt with him, and they have a nice 'boys will be boys' vibe going with plenty of insider jokes and dancing, as they played to the gallery in full. Sanju baba made so much fun of his three weddings in the first half-hour that we had to forgive his many trespasses, be it in guns, babes, or film roles. Anyone who can laugh at himself on international TV deserves a vote from me.
But little prepared me for what followed next. Shakti Kapoor in all his glory sporting an orange shock of hair resembling a dead Pekinese, dancing in a 'chaddi' to Bachna Ae Haseeno. And he's the only male contestant in the house!
The bevy of female contestants ought to sue Endemol for condemning them to a fate worse than death. Like all good predators though, Shakti Kapoor has his chivalry routine down pat. He dutifully dragged thirteen heaving suitcases of the thirteen heaving female contestants into the house. He obviously knows that age-old adage: "Always be nice before trying to cop a feel." Only time will tell whether adding Kapoor as the only man on this island of Lesbos will make for interesting television.
As for the women, the producers have clearly picked up their Khatron Ke Khiladi casting sheets for the last two seasons, and placed a few calls. First on the list is Pooja Bedi in a very strange satin gown. Then there's Shonali Nagrani who wore a mad Narendra Modi-esque glint in her eye and pancake smile while dancing to her entrance number. Also Sonika Kaliraman Malik, India's first female wrestler who is six months pregnant, and once declared 'Bigg Boss ka reputation psychic hai'.
The only known non-KKK contestant is singer Raageshwari, who we were informed is into Tibetan yoga — which is likely the secret of her washboard abs. The rest are the usual array of unknowns and skanks who will later thank Bigg Boss 5 for their dubious 15 minutes of fame. A strange blue-eyed Pooja Missra who is a VJ of sorts, and has hosted some very forgettable shows on UTV Bindaas. Nihita Biswas, the 22-year old bride of the 67-year old Charles Sobhraj. Shradha Chaudhary, best known for co-habiting with Raja Chaudhary who is usually in the news for either picking up prostitutes or beating up Shradha or threatening his ex-wife.
As in past seasons, Bigg Boss 5 has ensured that there's at least one hotty for the men to feast their eyes on. This time it's Mahek Chahal, whom no one will remember from that stellar classic Yamla Pagla Deewana, but who will definitely be remembered after this show.
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The Endemol boys and girls have also enlisted Mandeep Belvi — the Headlines Today Bollywood reporter who usually butchers their show on her programme. But once a reporter, always a reporter. As soon as Mandeep found out that Nihita Biswas was Frankenstein's bride she immediately started interrogating her on why she married him, whether they've had sex yet, whether she believes he's innocent or guilty and whether Nihita had decided to take part in the show in the hope of clearing Sobhraj's good name. By the end of it, Nihita looked ready to pack her bags and hotfoot it back to Nepal.
The only person who looked sympathetic was Shakti Kapoor. Hmm. Wonder why.
There's a new ingredient in the mix this time — the women's rights activist — which is quite impressive, actually. There's Gulabo Sapera, the women's rights activist and Kalbeliya dancer from Rajasthan, and Vida Samadzai, Miss Afghanistan who is very actively involved in women's empowerment in India and in Kabul.
And then there's the token transgender. Last few seasons featured the likes of Rohit Khanna, Bobby Darling and Begum Nawazish Althat. This time, it's the turn of Laxmi Narayan Tripathi who's also a transgender social activist.
The last of the line-up is the worst, because she doesn't fall into skank, social activist or starlet category. It's the very rotund Juhi Parmar, who acts in TV serials and now is a fixture on reality shows.
Sanju and Salman did a little promo for their film Rascals and got themselves some eye candy in the very pleasing form of Lisa Haydon. Ajay 'Anaconda' Devgan also came on the show and displayed a slightly too-familiar rapport with Lisa — which you can't blame him for going by how hot she looked. And Dutt looked decidedly sad when she bid them adieu and traipsed off the stage.
Some of the women have already formed cliques like Bedi, Raageshwari, and Shonali. The stage is also set for the first potential catfight with Shonali nominating Pooja Missra as the one doomed to live out of her tote bag for the next few days. Shhradha Chaudhary and Nihita Biswas look like they're going to be everyone's whipping girls from day one. And almost all of them seem a little wary of Mandeep Bevli with her strange American-Bandra accent and unrelenting inquisitions.
The Bigg Boss PR machinery has let slip that Jonty Rhodes, Mike Tyson and Shakira will all be coming into the house at some point. Poor Jonty better wear a chastity belt, because after weeks of being locked up with only Shakti Kapoor for male company, the beauteous bevy is likely to lose control.
Will Nihita let slip how many women Sobhraj actually killed? Or will Shakti Kapoor make a move on Vida whose breasts he couldn't take his eyes off? And will Raageshwari suddenly flip out and show that even yogis can lose their patience? Or will the women's rights activists have to rescue Mandeep when she asks her fellow faux-celebrities one question too many?
So what if there's no footage of Anupamaa Verma snogging Aryan Vaid or Monica Bedi making sure that Rahul Mahajan will be knocked off by Abu Salem sooner or later. This season seems to hold as much potential as the previous ones. So here's to many weeks of trash TV to follow.
Rajyasree Sen is a bona fide foodie, TV connoisseur and unsolicited opinion-giver. You can read about her adventures with food and life in Delhi on her blog www.brownsahiba.blogspot.com or follow her at @rajyasree.