Quick to advise contestants about their behaviour on the show, host Kamal let Saravanan’s statement slide without noticing anything problematic about it.

Molestation is not funny Normalising Bigg Boss Tamil contestant Saravanans admission
Flix Opinion Monday, July 29, 2019 - 14:15

The Tamil Bigg Boss show has just as many critics as fans. The recent weekend episode where host Kamal Haasan met the contestants and chatted with them about the events of the past week has raised hackles for normalising sexual harassment. In the episode, Kamal Haasan was speaking to the contestants about the various issues that had cropped up in the house in the fifth week.

While speaking to contestants Cheran, Saravanan and Meera Mithun, Kamal Haasan said that on public transport, it was common for people to fall on each other. However, he acknowledged that there were men who got into public transport just to molest women. Responding to this, Saravanan raised his hand gleefully and admitted that he’d indeed done so during his college days. The visuals show the audience clapping and laughing at his confession while Kamal Haasan also responds in jest, saying Saravanan had gone “beyond the divine” (a reference to a dialogue from his film Guna) in making the statement.

Several people on social media, including singer Chinmayi, have condemned what Saravanan said as well as the response of the audience. While one cannot be sure that the clapping and laughter from the audience was for this particular statement – since it’s possible that such sound effects are added by the production team later – it is without a doubt irresponsible of the Bigg Boss show to present the incident as comedy.

The routine sexual harassment that women experience on public transport is far from being funny for the victims. While those who can afford to pay for private transport still have a choice, for a vast majority of women, they have no option but to put up with everyday sexual harassment. Normalising the crime and worse, celebrating the perpetrator is rank insensitivity and there can be no excuse for the Bigg Boss team to have permitted this exchange to air, considering the increasing conversation around #MeToo.

The Tamil film industry, from which Kamal Haasan comes, has a long and infamous history of passing off sexual harassment as “romance” or “comedy”. But the actor, who is looking to create a change in politics in the state, should seriously introspect about his own response to Saravanan’s admission. Quick to advise contestants about their behaviour on the show, Kamal let Saravanan’s statement slide without noticing anything problematic about it.

Ironically, the episode saw a heated discussion on whether contestant Meera had falsely accused Cheran of touching her inappropriately during a task that they were performing. Saravanan and the other contestants supported Cheran over Meera, claiming that Cheran was very respectful towards women. Host Kamal, too, was of the opinion that Meera’s accusation was unjustified. He played a clip from the episode where the incident took place. It’s difficult for the viewers to tell from the visuals who’s right but Meera insisted that she did not like how Cheran had behaved with her. However, everyone else sided with Cheran, and Kamal told Meera that while every woman who has a complaint must be taken seriously, he was of the view that she was mistaken about Cheran’s act.

Bigg Boss is a reality TV show where the contestants stay in a house with little contact with the outside world. They’re supposedly under the camera’s eye 24X7. Given this, it is unreasonable to expect that the contestants will only say politically correct things all through. However, it is in the hands of the host and the organisers of the show how they respond to incidents in the house. In this case, they did have the choice to either validate Saravanan’s behaviour or reprimand him for it. Sadly and though it is not surprising at all, they chose to stick with the “boys will be boys” line of thought.

In a previous season, Kamal Haasan had apologised for how the show had portrayed mental health insensitively after widespread criticism. One hopes that this time too, he will pay heed and acknowledge the problematic “comedy” in this episode.

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