[Editor’s Note : Edited version of this writeup was first published in Time Out Mumbai, November’13 edition]
“I’m a BIG fan of Salman Khan and Bigg Boss!”….Nah! Not something one may brag about and definitely not something one discloses on a first date. It’s actually a catch 22 situation. Both, Salman and Bigg Boss rock the popularity charts but the saner folks prefer to maintain their distance keeping their highbrow facade intact. As for me, I am a masala loving gal be it in my daily food intake or sources of entertainment. While I could write tomes of poems on my fondness for the Social Superman Salman, it’s the current season of the said reality show that makes the loyal viewer in me, to put it bluntly – pissed!
Bigg Boss got my attention way back in 2006 when Bobby Darling entered the show as one of the housemates. Watching a fellow member of the Queer community on prime-time television on a channel backed by an international media-house had me, perhaps more thrilled, than the contestants! But where there was excitement there was anxiety as well. I mean let’s face it – we live in a country riddled with conservative notions on defined binary gender roles. For instance, a man is supposed to be tough and aggressive, whereas a woman is expected to be gentle and docile in her mannerisms. And here we had a third gender individual, opening up on national television making a bid to grab the winning lottery and to find acceptance. To me, this made Bobby most vulnerable in comparison to other house guests, and thereby an easy target of mockery when the going got tough.
Then came the likes of other openly Queer individuals such as Rohit Verma, Pakistani talk show host Begum aka Ali Saleem, and transgender activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathy. Yes, the same Laxmi who despite being invited to a panel discussion at the prestigious Bombay Gymkhana, was refused entry by the club committee for being a hijra.
All of them wore their sexual and gender fluidity on their sleeves, rather confidently. While personal bickering continued to be the modus operandi inside the fancy Bigg Boss house, none of them were subjected to homophobic bullying. And bang! Over the six seasons, intentionally or not the show became a mass medium of Queer visibility.
But Big Boss 7 has opened the Pandora’s box.
Even though there are no known queer contestants in the show, homophobic slurs are being thrown around like vada pav wrappers in Andheri. The beefy men of the Big Boss house namely, the one time Bollywood actor Armaan Kohli and television star Kushal Tandon are seen boasting about their mard status and humiliating VJ Andy and nude yoga instructor Vivek Mishra due to their effeminate mannerisms. In bouts of anger and name calling, the latter two men have been subjected to derogatory slangs like chhakka and chhamiya. Further on the physically stronger actors continue to aggressively bully the two men by calling them a blot on India culture, and referring to them as womanly-men. And even worse is the silence from other contestants in the house, who at times don’t shy away from participating or encouraging the mocking and name- calling.
Television channels are not known for following the fair play policy when it comes to the TRP race or the outcome of reality shows. But display of such deep-seeded homophobia and hetero-normative conditioning, without any consequences for those indulging in it, is pushing the boundary of decency and perhaps, common courtesy too far.
Some may feel that the victims are equally to be blamed, as they are fully aware of the show’s format which encourages attacking another’s personal space as a survival tactic. And so for that simple reason, their humiliation shouldn’t be made a big deal of!
But guess what? This is precisely why it should be a big deal. Homophobia is not confined within the four walls of the Bigg Boss house. It is in fact a global epidemic and our country stands if not behind, on par with many nations that lead the race. While many countries have moved towards legalizing same sex marriages or unions, in the world’s largest democratic country, Indian homosexuals are currently fighting for their rightful existence in the eyes of the law and the society. Ironic isn’t it? Even with an adult population of almost 10%, we continue to pine for proudly out homosexual role models.
And here’s the thing, television today is a powerful medium. When homophobia is accepted under the pretext of a mindless banter or playful aggression, it trivializes discrimination towards sexual minorities, or deviants as the common lexicon knows better. It further enforces the chalta hai attitude, and we are desensitized to the real meaning of homophobia.
For no other reason, if such inanity continues – we may be better off renaming Bigg Boss as Bigg Bigot. Really Bigg Bigots.