Bigg Boss in Tamil premiered on Vijay TV on Sunday. Hosted by Kamal Haasan, the show began with 15 of the contestants walking into the house which will be under lockdown for the next 100 days. As with the original show, the contestants will be under constant surveillance, with 30 cameras spying on their moves, including night vision ones. They're not allowed to take their mobile phones inside. There is no Internet or TV inside the house either.
Kamal Haasan began with some awkward humour, introducing the show to the audience and taking the viewers through the Bigg Boss house - swimming pool, gym, smoking room, sitting room, kitchen, bathrooms/toilets, bedrooms (one for men and another for women), storeroom, and the counseling room. The actor seemed to be a bit stiff and out of sorts, possibly because of the forced humour in the script (he takes a phone call from a woman and addresses her as 'baby' but tells the camera he cannot reveal who it is, for instance).
And then came the contestants. Although there were only supposed to be 14 participants, the "surprise" addition was Namitha, who said that she wanted her fans to have the opportunity to get to know the "real" Namitha and not the glamorous person they were used to seeing on screen. The actor has apparently turned "spiritual" and is a new woman now.
The contestants seem to be TV and cinema aspirants, who are looking to either regain lost fame or make a name for themselves in the industry. The only person who isn't from the entertainment sector is Julie, a nurse and activist who became famous during the jallikattu protests, when a video of her raising slogans against Sasikala went viral.
Other than Namitha, the familiar faces from cinema include actors Ganesh Venkatraman, Anuya, Sree (Maanagaram), Oviya (Manmadhan Ambu) and comedians Vayapuri, Ganja Karuppu, Aarthy, Bharani (Nadodigal). Director and choreographer Gayathri Raghuram is also part of the house.
Writer Snehan, Miss India contestant Rizah, debutant actor Saktivel Vasu, and model Aarav are the others who make up the 15.
Except Rizah who sashayed down the red carpet, all the other women were made to perform a dance to announce their entry. And except Ganesh Venkatraman who broke into a dance, all the men had a rather sober introduction. What was the point of this division, one is not sure, especially when the dances were quite tacky. The supporting cast which turned up to escort the contestants to the stage looked quite lost as well.
As was only to be expected, everyone sang praises of the host, Kamal Haasan, admitting that he was one of the prime reasons why they had agreed to be a part of the House. Among the lot, it was Aarthy who spoke naturally and added some much needed "reality" to the show.
Indian TV can never be devoid of sentimentalism, so there was the usual Amma sentiment and a heavy dose of farmer love - with Julie wearing a red turban that she claimed stood for the sweat and blood of the farming community. She's clearly pitched as one of the contestants that the audience will love. For one, she's an outsider from the world of glamour, a "real" person like the people watching. And two, she was part of a people's protest. Before she took leave, Julie fell at her parents' feet to seek their blessings, leaving us in no doubt at all that this was a very "cultured" young woman.
Kamal also emphasized a few times that the contestants will have to speak in Tamil inside the house and already, the camera focused on Rizah a few times, with the model looking out of place as everyone else seems comfortable in each other's company. Oh so not staged!
Indian Bigg Boss shows don't get as raunchy as their Western versions (they have cameras in the bathrooms there, as Kamal pointed out) but the show is likely to have its share of suggestiveness. Kamal already made some crass jokes like not being able to frisk a woman contestant like he had the men.
Audiences love such reality shows because they expose the drama of being human and they're willing to suspend disbelief even if they might feel that the whole thing is staged. It appeals to the voyeur in us to see people tear each other down, and have meltdowns that we would be ashamed of having with a witness.
Reality shows in Tamil Nadu have come under heavy criticism even though they remain popular. Will Bigg Boss push the boundaries of sensationalism or will it play it safe? Morality is a volatile subject in the state and Kamal Haasan has already come under politically motivated attacks for his films and views. As the host, he runs the risk of facing more such opposition if the show gets too much into the grey.
For now, the game is on. And you can already foresee some of the fault lines. Hopefully, Kamal will settle down in the show - somebody give him better lines please!