It was one moment when Kamal Haasan faltered and did not react immediately. Maybe he got carried away by the applause the studio audience gave to Saravanan, one of the inmates in `Bigg Boss’ (Tamil) when he rather casually admitted to having travelling by public buses during his college days, just in order to grope women passengers. By not reprimanding Saravanan, Kamal failed as the show’s conscience keeper.
What was the context in which this was said during the Bigg Boss episode this weekend?
Kamal while speaking about the challenges faced by commuters in public transport, said many passengers are forced over the other person due to overcrowding. In the same vein, he added, there also existed a group of people who traveled on public buses with the primary intention of targeting women commuters. At this point in time, Saravanan from inside the Bigg Boss House raised his hand and claimed he had done so in his college days. Kamal, even if he looked a trifle surprised at the confession, moved on. The audience cheered as did the housemates.
I am sure even Kamal regrets not having addressed the issue then and there. Harassment of women in public transport is a very real issue and given the reach of the programme, Kamal ought to have used it both to condemn the glee with which Saravanan admitted to it and address the larger issue of harassment. By taking a strong position against so-called Romeos who end up causing trauma to a young mind, Kamal would have done the right thing. As an actor, as a politician, as a human being.
The problem perhaps is that mainstream Indian cinema, including Tamil, has for long used public transport as a vehicle for a boy to pursue a girl where harassment passes off for romance. Which perhaps explains the audience reaction. The effect of mass media is so huge that it leads to normalisation of such occurrences on overcrowded buses and trains.
Bigg Boss realised that the public sentiment, the spontaneous cheer from the audience notwithstanding, was against what transpired on the show. Which is perhaps why in a bid to do damage control, Saravanan put out a video saying his intention was not to glorify what he did in his college days but to point out that it ought not be done. It is quite likely that Kamal too will correct his mistake in not reacting appropriately when he appears on the show next weekend.
Ironically, the Tamil season has been hit by this controversy even as the Telugu season has been in the midst of allegations of sexual harassment even before it took off. Journalist Swetha Reddy and actor Gayatri Gupta accused four executives of Star Maa TV where Bigg Boss Telugu is hosted of asking inappropriate questions during the screening process. That however, has not stopped the show from going on, unaffected by the police probe outside the House.
The two complainants even wanted Nagarjuna to step down as the host but he has simply responded by saying he has nothing to do with the contestants and was told the names just an hour before he hosted the inaugural episode.
It is obvious that with the kind of eyeballs Bigg Boss attracts in both regional languages, there is pressure to do the right thing. The flip side however, is that it is precisely these kind of controversies that a reality show like Bigg Boss thrives on and such episodes only add to the curiosity factor, driving more viewers to the show.