I've long been fascinated by the idea of being locked up in the Bigg Boss house. In fact, I've been fascinated by the psyche of people who willingly give up their personal freedom to spend weeks inside a flashy, garishly decorated house, with no contact whatsoever with the outside world.
To top that, there is constant surveillance.
It really is an Orwellian nightmare playing out on TV screens, complete with rules that seem to have their roots in the bloody laws of the Roman Colosseum.
As soon as I arrived at the Bigg Boss house in Lonavala, I was relieved of all my possessions—including wallet, watch and phone...
Like gladiators, inmates fight to survive as viewers derive voyeuristic pleasures out of their collective pains, frustrations, and misery. What is prison for those locked inside is an escape for the average viewer sitting at home.
When an opportunity came by to spend an entire day trapped inside the house, I took it eagerly. This was my chance to experience the psychological terror that I'd long speculated about.
As soon as I arrived at the Bigg Boss house in Lonavala, I was relieved of all my possessions—including wallet, watch and phone—which were then put in a plastic bag. My chest was fitted with a microphone that would transmit every word we uttered, every breath I took. All the other journalists (some I knew, some I didn't) who were playing at being "inmates" for the day went through the same procedure.
We met outside the house and the mood at that point was light-hearted, with everyone making jokes and looking forward to the adventure ahead.
And then came the blindfolds, which were wrapped around our eyes before we were taken inside the house in pairs.
When the blindfolds were taken off, we were already inside the gaudily designed house—all red, yellow and gold, with decorations that jarred the eye. Despite the loud colours, it was unusually silent, and I instantly felt cut off from the chaos of the outside world.
It reminded me of the maze featured in the Triwizard Tournament from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire—the one that eventually leads Harry to the graveyard where precious life would be lost to resurrect Lord Voldemort.
But unlike a graveyard, the Bigg Boss house was fully equipped with a gym, pool, and Jacuzzi. To offset the luxury there was also a jail with rusty bars and a dingy, moth-infested toilet— to make the inmates' lives as unbearable as possible when required.
In a house meant to induce drama, there is no room for subtleties.
Once inside, the journalists mingled with one another with the genuine warmth one associates with camping activities and group vacations. Games were played (not the mind ones, not just yet), a hearty lunch was eaten and a lot of humour was found, especially by discussing events from past episodes.
However, this lasted only for the first one or two hours. Even though the stay was for a day, losing sense of time can be very disorienting and soon, tiny groups began to emerge as people aligned with others matching their own sensibilities.
Slowly, the conversations became more stilted, guarded, and the bright colours seemed deceptive—as if they were hiding something dark and unpleasant.
Slowly, the conversations became more stilted, guarded, and the bright colours seemed deceptive—as if they were hiding something dark...
Once or twice, I silenced myself when somebody else walked by, and at least on one occasion, I had to get away from a clingy contestant to talk quietly with two friends that I had made in the house.
I had to fake-laugh in response to an annoying contestant's over-the-top attitude because, well, there wasn't much else to do. I passionately disagreed with another journalist who fiercely defended Sooraj Pancholi, an accused in the Jiah Khan suicide case.
All in all, I could see the beginning of events, a solid gamification that could turn into potential turmoil if the stay was prolonged.
When you are surrounded by a lot of people in a heavily controlled environment, it appeared to me that more faultlines than friendships were likely to be forged.
And then Bigg Boss's stern and disembodied voice announced the nomination process. It was to be held in full public view, and this made people uncomfortable and jittery. Nobody knew anybody enough to not want them around anymore. Ironically, that became the sole reason why people nominated others—"Oh, I am nominating her because I don't know her at all."
In a house premised on bringing participants closer, people were very comfortable not knowing others and using that as a tool to evict them. They weren't keen on getting to know the participants better and having genuine reasons for not wanting them around. In a game that thrives on theatrics, proximity seems to be frowned upon, distance valued.
In just nine-odd hours in the house, I got an insight on how manipulative one can get—despite knowing that it's a fictitious set-up with no real life implications.
The desire to remain at top of the game, to be liked, to survive is very real—
especially when you know every move of yours is being watched for others to judge.
It's not enough to be yourself—you have to be the best, most political version of yourself. At all times.
But what the house really forces you to do is to evaluate your own behaviour in a controlled social setting—it's not a club or a house party where you can walk out from if you don't like the vibe, or are uncomfortable with the way you are presenting yourself.
As much as you have to confront others who rub you the wrong way, you also have to confront yourself. You have to calibrate your behaviour, censor yourself. It's not enough to be yourself—you have to be the best, most political version of yourself. At all times.
There's no escape—no social media, no music to listen to, no movies to watch, heck, not even a book to read. You are forced to constantly socialize with others—if you take a nap, a noisy alarm wakes you up.
Within the confines of the house, there is only one rule—entertainment. When I failed to amuse my fellow inmates by not being able to dance to "Choli Ke Peechhe Kya Hai" (a task I'd been assigned), I was thrown into the jail, even as other inmates watched and danced around. (Given show host Salman Khan's history with the law, I found that a tad bit ironical.)
As I languished in the jail, I understood what really lies at the core of the Bigg Boss narrative— if you aren't entertaining enough, you'll be punished, or as we'll see in the days to come, systematically booted out.
Bigg Boss airs on Colors on weekdays at 10.30 pm and on weekends at 9 pm.