Ahead of the third season of Bigg Boss Telugu, the show has been mired in controversy. Hyderabad-based journalist Swetha Reddy has accused four organisers of the television reality show, aired on STAR MAA, of cheating and misleading her. Swetha has also alleged that one of the people involved asked how she would satisfy the person they referred to as ‘boss’. She has alleged that ‘satisfying the boss' was a euphemism for sexual favours. It is unclear who they were allegedly acting on behalf of. The Banjara Hills police have filed a case against the four accused staffers of STAR MAA.
Swetha Reddy is the executive editor of Telugu news channel News Republic TV, headquartered at Banjara Hills. Speaking to TNM Swetha says she was approached by the organisers of Bigg Boss to be a part of their show earlier this year in March. Swetha says that Ravikanth, one of the show’s coordinators at STAR MAA, called her in March and informed her that the channel was interested in having her as one of the contestants in Bigg Boss.
“I asked them why they chose me and Ravikanth said that they were looking for contestants who were popular and fiery. He also told me that I was one of the recent trending stars on YouTube. After initial discussions with my family, I agreed to be on the show,” Swetha says. (The journalist was trending on YouTube after a public spat with evangelist and Praja Shanti leader KA Paul in February.)
After a few days, Abhsishek, Bigg Boss head from Mumbai, and Ravikanth, met Swetha in a restaurant in Banjara Hills. She says, “Abhishek again said that they preferred to have me on their show because they required journalists like me who were bold and a popular face among the audience.” Swetha says she also met the coordinators of the show a couple of times during which she was also introduced to Raghu, another show coordinator from STAR MAA, who explained to her the details of the game. She met Raghu a few times at the Mint Leaf restaurant in Banjara Hills in a span of three months to discuss the show.
“During one such meeting, Raghu and another HR person from their team presented me the agreement papers and also discussed my weekly payments for the show. They promised to transfer an advance amount before the show began. As I was in a hurry and had work-related commitments, I trusted Raghu and signed on the bond papers. He also promised to send the duplicate of the agreement papers in a week’s time,” Swetha says.
Meanwhile, there were speculations regarding Bigg Boss 3 contestants all over the Internet. “I was surprised that my name didn’t figure anywhere and I contacted Raghu, asking him to send me the agreement papers. He once again confirmed that I was selected to the show and that he would send the papers soon,” Swetha alleges.
The team soon called her and arranged a meeting with Shyam, STAR MAA programming producer, on June 4. According to the FIR filed by the Banjara Hills police, the first question posed by Shyam was why Swetha was interested in participating in Bigg Boss.
“I told him it wasn’t me, but the show organisers who had approached me to be a part of the show. He then asked me what I would do in order to satisfy the show’s boss. I got furious. Shyam told me that in order to be in the show I need to satisfy the boss,” Swetha alleges. When asked who ‘the boss’ was, Swetha says Shyam did not specify who he was talking about.
“He then fat-shamed me and asked me what I was doing in order to lose weight. I told him Bigg Boss is a mind game and that my weight had nothing to do with it. He again told me that I needed to lose weight to impress the boss,” Swetha alleges.
Swetha has lodged a complaint against Ravikanth, Raghu, Abhishek and Shyam for cheating and forcing her to make compromises for the show.
An FIR in the case was filed on July 13 and an official from the Banjara Hills police station told TNM that investigation is underway. A criminal case has been filed against the accused under Section 354 of IPC (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty).
When asked about rumours that the case could be a ploy to create controversy around Bigg Boss, Swetha says that she is not sure if it is a ploy but the issue of casting couch – a euphemism for sexual harassment in the film industry – is real. “There are other female contestants also who have been approached inappropriately by the show organisers. They have cheated and harassed me and I believe that it’s important I come out in the open and bring the issue to the notice of people,” Swetha says, adding, "I would never want to go back to the show and in fact such reality shows on television should be banned."
STAR MAA is yet to respond and make an official statement regarding the allegations.