Why Kamal Haasan-hosted Bigg Boss Tamil is problematic at many levels

Across seven seasons, the reality show has been replete with patriarchy, misogyny, body-shaming and bullying

Why Kamal Haasan-hosted Bigg Boss Tamil is problematic at many levels
Evicted Bigg Boss Tamil Season 7 contestant Pradeep Antony, and (right) actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan hosting the weekend episode.

In an ideal world, #JusticeForVinushaDevi would have made news.

For the uninitiated, Vinusha Devi, a television actor, was part of Bigg Boss Tamil’s ongoing season. After being voted out of the show, Vinusha discovered that her co-contestant Nixen had made derogatory remarks on live TV about her physique and skin tone, calling her a ‘maid’.

With the hashtag #StandingForMyself, Vinusha demanded on Instagram that Kamal Haasan, the show’s host for seven seasons, take this up in the weekend episode. Kamal, however, chose to give the topic the miss, instead using a good part of the Saturday (November 11) episode to clear the air about the decision to evict Pradeep Antony, a popular contestant.

#StillStandingUpForMyself, wrote an obviously disappointed Vinusha.

Endless issues

That's just one of the many things that are highly problematic with the reality show, which is replete with patriarchy, misogyny, body-shaming and bullying.

Pradeep Antony was given a red card and made to exit unceremoniously the previous week after several contestants raised red flags. They accused him of “using bad words, intimidating the contestants and posing a threat to the safety of women”. Kamal said dismissing Pradeep was his call to make, but he had decided to let the other contestants in the house make the decision, in the interest of ‘democracy’.

Social media pages, including Kamal’s Twitter handle, were flooded with comments calling him out for the decision, forcing the actor-cum-politician to clear the air. On Saturday, stating that the decision was taken in a democratic process involving the affected contestants, Kamal reiterated that women’s safety was of paramount importance.

Which brought to mind Season 1 of the show, when some of the women contestants complained that their colleague, actor Bharani, got too close to them physically while carrying out tasks. “Don’t you travel by public transport? Do you object to the men getting too close then?” asked Kamal, to roaring applause from the audience at the studio.

Red cards and red flags

Pradeep is no saint and perhaps deserved the red card. But the larger question is whether he was the only guilty party in the house. Nixen’s comment for instance was wrong at many levels. While his intention may not have been so as he had repeatedly been saying, calling a co-contestant a velaikaari (a disrespectful term for domestic help) speaks volumes about the stigma around both domestic workers and dark-skinned people.

Vinusha is among the very few dark-skinned heroines in Tamil television and had spoken out about the discrimination meted to her all her professional and personal life owing to her skin colour.

While Nixen could still vehemently deny that he “didn’t mean it that way”, there is obviously no other way he could have meant it. His derogatory comments about her physique were entirely another issue. Nixen sought to brush it off as comments on Vinusha’s facial features, but the video clip which has since been widely circulated on social media shows him using the word 'body' in Tamil, besides making hand gestures in line with that.

Didn’t Kamal Haasan think it fit to address this issue and make sure that justice is served to Vinusha, too? While he could contend that Vinusha was no longer part of the show, the issue happened on the show. And Nixen is still an active contestant.

A political platform

After six seasons and into his seventh now, Kamal has made no bones about using the platform to further his own political ambitions. Addressing the issue could have perhaps helped him further – that the issue of women’s safety and dignity is important anywhere and not just in the Bigg Boss house. In fact, Kamal said this on the show, but paradoxically ignored Vinusha’s explicit request to address the disrespect meted out to her.

That Poornima Ravi, another contestant who made serious allegations against Pradeep, thanked Nixen about the positive comment he had made about her in comparison with Vinusha also smacks of hypocrisy. Along with her friend in the house, Maya S Krishnan, Poornima has sought to portray herself as a flag-bearer of women’s issues and rights.

Exasperated, she had once demanded that the Bigg Boss team send some ‘progressive’ contestants into the house to understand the nuances surrounding Pradeep’s dismissal. That both she and Maya accepted a lame explanation given by Nixen and chose not to stand up for Vinusha raises questions about their own conviction on such issues.

It has been equally regressive in the past. Women contestants have been called out for washing their male colleagues’ clothes. A transgender woman contestant was cruelly taunted in Season 6, and the main perpetrator walked away with the title.

High-pressure ecosystem

Bigg Boss is a notoriously unique experiment where around 20 contestants are put together under a very pressured atmosphere. There have been suicide attempts. It is possible that the contestants falter under stress and commit unintended mistakes. But social media spares none.

Since the very first season, social media has relentlessly targeted 'non-favourite' contestants, especially after their exit from the show. It probably took a long time for Season 1 contestants Gayathri Raghuram (choreographer-turned-politician) and Julie (nurse-turned-actor) to come to terms with the hatred spewed on them on social media, and go about their normal lives.

This time, Poornima and Maya, along with Aishu, who got evicted on Sunday (November 12), seem to be at the receiving end. In fact, among a barrage of interviews by anyone even remotely connected to the show, there were a few discussing Maya’s personal life and sexual orientation – by no means acceptable.

While Poornima and Maya continue to play the game largely ignorant of the hatred, Aishu would have now begun to realise the enormity of her decision to put her life for examination by some 60 cameras, even if for just a few weeks. Just as it did for Gayathri and Julie, this too shall pass for Aishu and others. But till then, they would need to persevere.

One cannot help but wonder at the scale of priorities. Our own hypocrisy in seeking “Justice for Pradeep” (there is even a Change petition for it) when one child is being killed every 10 minutes in Gaza, and when there are issues to grapple with in our own backyard, is perhaps worth examining?

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