From time to time Tsewang watches big boss on her iPhone, sitting in a chair while her clients steam their hair. The beauty consultant uses every 5 minute break to watch a group of people argue, fight and compete on the Colors TV show.
She has seen little else since the last season of Bigg Boss Hindi aired. As soon as she watched this episode, she immediately texted her friends and family in the group chats. Several commented, people took sides, memes were shared, and when she opened her browser feed, a slew of tweets and polls with the hashtag #SajidKhan were trending. The inclusion of the #MeToo accused on the reality show has caused a lot of controversy.
Trapped in a circus house 16 participants will spend over 3 months without phones, internet connection or tv, some fighting, some alone, all trying to survive each other in the house and take home the big boss title. Fans would watch her every move, take sides, participate in choosing the winner and condemn those they deem unworthy.
Tsewang said she always watched the show when she was in high school, and that at 26 with a full-time job as a beautician, she hasn’t changed anything — except her favorite contestants, and this season she’s supporting Tajik influencer Abdu Rozik.
So when people eagerly follow such human dramas in the Bigg Boss house, one can ask: Is it just voyeurism?
Big Boss Khabri aka Sameer Malik, who has been an avid follower of the show for many years, finds the comparison unfair. A native of Andheri, Mumbai, Malik has nearly 30,000 followers on Twitter and has more than eight years of experience running such accounts. For Malik, the show is much more than voyeurism — it’s emotional.
“They’re emotional fans, they’re attached to their favorite candidates; supporting them, cheering them up and tweeting about them every day makes the connection personal,” he said. “They want to know everything that’s happening on the show, sometimes even in the personal lives of the contestants.”
Every Friday, Khabri tweets the latest Bigg Boss elimination names, a day before the official announcement on TV. “I have some of my people on set so I can get the information before TV.” Since then, he’s become the “real khabri” (whistle-blower), more concerned with maintaining that label than with any legal action involving it demands.
A year ago, when Bigg Boss season 15 began, he openly admitted his preference for actress Tejasswi Prakash, but his bias didn’t sit well with some of his followers. They reported his account and it was banned with over 2.5 lakh followers at the time – for not supporting contestants Umar Riaz and Karan Kundrra.
He uses this moment to emphasize the collective power of Bigg Boss fans on Twitter. “If someone talks nonsense about the show, the entire fandom will troll the person to such an extent that it will be difficult for them to come back on Twitter.”
“You know how a contestant is trending on Twitter?” Malik asked. Each contestant’s fandom group decides on a date, exact time, and hashtag line. When the clock strikes the exact minute, tens of thousands tweet the same hashtag at lightning speed, mentioning their mutually beloved candidate. The army repeats the routine several times a day, and then one contestant hits Twitter’s trending list.
Well, those who aren’t sure which candidate to support end up supporting whoever is hottest, Malik explained. “That’s why Bigg Boss mostly trends on Twitter. There are too many warnings and ads on Facebook and Instagram. On Twitter, the news comes first.”
While such fandom has been seen before and often on every other reality show, it’s even more prominent on Bigg Boss with the element of “connectability.”
How fans get in touch with the candidates
Social psychologist Kirthy Chandrasekaran said: “Somewhere they relate to these celebrities. These celebs’ popularity depends on people’s support, unlike others who have had more muted fame.”
Speaking on Reddit, Your_Awkwadness, a member of r/biggboss – a subreddit with over 56,000 followers – said: “By introducing the voting method, they make sure we feel that we too are a part of this show and just as important as the contestants. “
According to Chandrashekharan, “The psychosocial aspect at play is that of power. Shows like Bigg Boss, which subject “fallen celebrities” to worldly ordeal, give audiences the illusion of power that are basically disenfranchised citizens/targets of social oppression by class, caste, religion, and politics over which they have little or little power/control have their personal and professional lives. Watching celebrities navigate everyday misery offers them some comfort in belonging.”
This is sometimes amplified when there is emotional drama going on in the house. Fans still remember when Dolly Bindra shouted on the show: “Manoj Tiwari! zaban sambal ke baat kar,” followed by Tiwari’s reply, “Haath mat lagao, mein anda banaunga.”
“Bana ke dikha…” Bindra yelled at singer-turned-politician Manoj Tiwari for wanting to eat something not on the morning breakfast list. Similar cases have included “Pooja, what is that behavior” and “Bigg Boss, mujhe hurt ho raha hai” debacles.
“Am I referring to these dramas? Yes,” says Tsewang. “But are the candidates similar to us? no They are worse.”
A show tailored for controversy
Away from the Hindi drama of Bigg Boss, Bigg Boss Malayam is no different for A Rituparna, a student at Delhi University’s Miranda House.
“I think the creators deliberately brought together people from conflicting ideologies and lifestyles,” she said. “I once saw my friends compete for some Bigg Boss Malayalam candidates. It was a fan fight as my friends were in their fan army.”
Such devoted fans are reminded of their contestants even outside of the Twitter world, and Sajid Khan’s entry and the drama that followed is a classic example.
“Sajid Khan goes to Bigg Boss to clear his image. Bigg Boss, where most people go to ruin their image!” said Wolf Cryman aka Harshit Wadhwani, a Bengaluru rapper. “I’ve never seen the show before but will see it now because the bigger the freak, the better the circus.”
Such expressions, in their simplicity, are one of the social media-inspired trends that come and go with intermittent punctuation, but Malik admitted they dictate the behavior of the contestants and sometimes indirectly that of the winner.
The claustrophobia of the Bigg Boss House
As fans cling to making their beloved celebrity the precursor, they unconsciously set the standard of what’s right to do.
“The development of the norm happens in Bigg Boss-like behavior,” explained Ramadhar Singh, a professor at the University of Ahmedabad and a social psychologist. “In novel and/or ambiguous situations, people rely on the actions of other members or even strangers for information and reassurance.”
In a recent example, host megastar Salman Khan had asked contestant Gautam Vig not to be a “copy” but an original on the show. Khan explained that Vig came to the show after watching previous seasons and is therefore following a pattern.
“Yes, although not always consciously,” explained Deepali Rao, consultant psychologist at VIMHANS Nayati Hospital. In Bigg Boss, the candidates exhibit two behavioral patterns. You try to fit in and be accepted by being a darling; the other tries to stand out and be perceived as unique. She said candidates use this pattern to survive indoors.
Without any outside contact, Rao said, this results in “some perceiving other participants as allies, while others perceive others as a potential threat to survival.”
Through all of this, Rao says, the anger often seen on the show can be the result of “frustrations from limitations, limited access to common coping strategies, burnout from constant adjustment to new situations (tasks or competitors) that are causing discomfort and Stress.”