Bigg Boss 16: How India's favourite guilty pleasure lost its charm over the years
The earlier seasons of Bigg Boss had an earthy charm to them. The contestants were real and organic. There was minimal outside interference and no unnecessary feedback from the host. Now, everything seems too rehearsed and well-orchestrated.
It wouldn’t be entirely fair to call the Bigg Boss set in Film City (earlier Lonavala) a house. In the last two seasons, it has become a hotel – contestants come and leave as and when the showrunners please. Ironically, the most number of wild card entries happened in seasons shot after 2020 when the contestants had to be quarantined before they stepped inside the glass-walled house so they don’t carry the virus with them. Virus or not, the contestants surely carried lots of crucial information on how their fellow inmates are playing the game. This information was weaponized by the wild cards and used against those who have been in the house from day one. Sounds unfair, right? This, among many other reasons, is why Bigg Boss has failed to attract the kind of viewership it once did. The last successful season which topped TRP charts was Bigg Boss 13 which made Sidharth Shukla and Shehnaaz Gill household names. When Bigg Boss 14 started going downhill, the showrunners invited ex-contestants on the show to compete with the inmates and somehow, salvaged the season. Bigg Boss 15 though, was a lost cause through and through.
To make matters worse, the showrunners played favourites in Bigg Boss 15 – an allegation which the production company and the channel haven’t addressed. They clearly had a lot of contestants who, for some strange reason, were given more screen time despite the neutral viewers (those who weren’t a part of fandoms) sharing their displeasure over it through multiple forums. The media and the entertainment journalists who have covered Bigg Boss since its inception, too, were aghast at the blatant favouritism which became too hard to ignore – from nominations to screen time and the winner announcement – it all seemed to favour certain contestants. For the first time in the history of Bigg Boss, the channel sent out press releases after the finale of season 15 to various media houses to justify the winner of the show. The outrage on social media was intense – the viewers felt the outcome wasn’t really fair and the damage was done.
PR trends and toxic fandoms
Come Bigg Boss 16 and we hardly see any buzz around the show. If reports are to be believed, many big names in television – the likes of Karan Patel, Divyanka Tripathi, Surbhi Jyoti, Shivin Narang refused to sign the show for reasons best known to them. Whatever their reasons may be, after the debacle last season, entering the Bigg Boss house might harm the careers of TV celebs instead of giving them a push. Why, you ask? The clever editing, fandoms and trends on Twitter by aggressive PR handles of the contestants can truly make or break their game in the house. Perception is everything. So now before entering the house, contestants hire giant PR firms and bot armies to vote for them in polls and eliminations. They do trends regularly to make their contestant’s name appear on the top of the trending section on Twitter. The one who hires the best and the most aggressive PR automatically becomes a frontrunner to win the title. After all, the channel wouldn’t want to evict a contestant if their name is generating online buzz and getting eyeballs for their show. The showrunners, somehow, seem oblivious to the fact that we viewers see through these tactics and don’t really fall for them anymore.
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Over the years, the game isn’t exactly fair to the contestants who are participating in the show. Gone are the days when a Manveer Gurjar or an Ashutosh Kaushik who came from humble backgrounds, got a fair chance to win over the viewers and take home the show’s title. In the age of social media, one cannot expect someone like a Manveer or an Ashutosh to lock horns with reputed TV celebs who have spent lakhs on hiring PR and years building industry goodwill. One Twitter trend by a glossy TV celeb’s PR team could affect their journey on the show and change their public perception. Is the attention and popularity that comes with Bigg Boss worth losing public goodwill? This is a question many young actors and actresses are now asking themselves before entering the house.
There was a time when contestants who weren’t particularly well-known, like Akash Dadlani and Arshi Khan (Bigg Boss 11) or Manu Panjabi (Bigg Boss 10) held their own against powerful TV honchos. Now, it is not the game inside the house but the one which is being played on Twitter, which decides who wins or loses the trophy.
Too much outside interference
Part of the reason why Bigg Boss seasons haven’t been as successful lately is that the showrunners have betrayed the original Big Brother format completely. The show isn’t a captive reality if there are guests, ex-contestants, movie stars entering the house every weekend and guiding the contestants on how to play their game. The whole purpose of building a huge set and socially isolating the contestants from the world is to see how they react when times are tough. Given the amount of information that the contestants get through the host and guests, the makers might as well give them their phones with WiFi access. The unnecessary feedback from Salman Khan, who has clearly lost interest in the show over the years, often leaves the contestants confused. One week he slams the contestants for being too aggressive and the next week, he tells them ‘aap log thande pad gaye ho’ (you are too boring now). To the viewers, the dilemma of the contestants is evident. Too much feedback leaves them confused and they are often seen walking on eggshells. Why, then, would any TV celeb want to appear on the show?
The earlier seasons of Bigg Boss had an earthy charm to them. The contestants were real and organic. They were trying to carve a niche for themselves. As the show went on over the years, contestants tried too hard to be someone they are not. Some tried to emulate Dolly Bindra or Imam Siddiqui, others wanted to be like Gauahar Khan or Sidharth Shukla. The contestants tried to fake their personalities to look like contestants in the previous seasons thinking they, too, would get the fame their peers did. Hell, even the showrunners and creatives tried hard to recreate equations and rivalries from previous seasons but failed miserably. Somewhere in between the social media campaigns and the race for TRPs, everyone forgot that it pays to be authentic. More importantly, they forgot that the audience can see it when a contestant tries to fake their personality.
Bigg Boss is in dire need of saving. The reality show kept viewers hooked to their TV sets as they watched Dolly Bindra lock horns with Shweta Tiwari in season 4, Imam Siddiqui go against the entire house in season 6, Gauahar Khan call out Bigg Boss himself in season 7 and Sidnaaz become the most loved couple in season 13. The showrunners need to go back and reflect on what made Bigg Boss so good in the first place. More importantly, the show now has to be way more authentic and less orchestrated with minimal outside interference and no unnecessary feedback from the host. The sooner the showrunners and contestants realize this, the better.
Deepansh Duggal is an entertainment, pop-culture and trends writer based in New Delhi. He specializes in op-eds based on the socio-political and gender issues in the world of entertainment and showbiz. He also writes explainers and occasionally reviews shows in the OTT space. He tweets at @Deepansh75.
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