By Dushyant Shekhawat Jan. 30, 2017
Cabin fever might start with a wilfully incomplete chore, then go on to verbal snapping, and finally it ends with you throwing your own urine at your fellow inmates.
On the night of the Bigg Boss finale, Star Movies was playing The Shining. The Shining tells the story of Jack Torrance, who is snowed in at The Overlook Hotel with his family where he falls prey to a mental condition commonly known as cabin fever, which makes him to go completely crazy and attempt to murder his wife and son.
Cabin fever is generally brought about by confinement in claustrophobic conditions with limited opportunity for positive social interaction. The symptoms include inability to handle stress, difficulty in sleeping, food cravings, social anxiety, and increased aggression.
I thought of cabin fever as I switched to Bigg Boss and witnessed the fight to the finale. While Bigg Boss is far removed from Kubrick’s brilliant depiction of human descent, it does bear certain similarities. The walls of your prison form the boundary of a farmhouse. Your fellow inmates make up a rogues’ gallery of personality disorders. Fights are frequent. Sleep, a luxury. Each morning you are woken up via auditory torture, as songs blast over a PA system, compelling you to get out of bed and dance like you are Sholay’s Basanti. A single, authoritarian overlord tells you what to do, eat and say. With food and sleep deprivation kicking in, compounded by the confrontational nature of this environment, you start to lose your grip on reality. It might start with a wilfully incomplete chore, then go on to verbal snapping, and finally it ends with you throwing your own urine at your fellow inmates. Welcome to Bigg Boss, where the cabin fever is 100 per cent genuine and human decency doesn’t matter.
Last night, Manveer, who represented the faction of commoners in the house, took home the prize money. The Celebrities vs Commoners gimmick is not the only gimmick at play here. The long-running reality show/social experiment has given us many strange gimmicks over the years (including a Double Trouble season, where contestants participated while being literally tethered to a partner!), but whatever the gimmick, the house always features a cast of individuals with a tenuous connection to reality at best. And it is for them that we watch.
This social experiment designed to test the limits of human tolerance makes it to our list of must-see TV because we can’t tear our eyes away from watching this un-ravelling… this metamorphosis of image-conscious B-list celebrity to a shrieking homunculus of rage and hate that drives TRPs the world over. Over weeks, viewers are treated to the sight of each contestant’s mask of sanity slowly slipping off, and it is that unmasking that we celebrate as entertainment.
Screeching like banshees for the camera is not the only way Cabin Fever: Bigg Boss edition manifests itself.
However, what we are actually seeing is the exploitation of a person, not very successsful to begin with, being mentally worn down until their psyche is so dismally frayed that they snap, providing us, the insatiable audience, with enough ammunition to hold fort at water cooler conversations the next day.
While the Bigg Boss contestants haven’t yet gone down the homicidal “HEEEERE’S JOHNNY!!” route from The Shining, they do display all the signs of people whose mental fortitude is steadily falling into ruin. Rakhi Sawant went from standard-issue item girl to national sensation when she showed us what a glorious mess she was in the show’s first season. Rakhi set the precedent for all the almost-haves who followed by proving that sometimes letting go of your sanity entirely can extend your brief time in the spotlight. Another Bigg Boss specialist was Dolly Bindra, who defended the honour of hapless fathers across the country with her bellow of “Baap pe mat jaana!”
Screeching like banshees for the camera is not the only way Cabin Fever: Bigg Boss edition manifests itself. Sometimes, it shines through in more insidious ways. How else would you explain why these struggling celebrities, whose public image after the show is always a concern, drop all pretence of civilised behaviour and resort to violence? Whether it was KRK being evicted after hurling bottles at a fellow housemate, or Kushal Tandon riding in to defend Gauhar Khan’s honour by laying the smack down on VJ Andy, just a few days in the house is enough to make them forget all standards of propriety. Sometimes, it can get even uglier and more vindictive than a mere dust-up though, as last year’s season saw a contestant command Kishwer Merchant to literally be a dog, crawling on all fours and picking up papers with her mouth, for several hours.
I don’t think Kishwer ever imagined her career would involve behaving like a furry, wet-nosed dog for several hours, yet it’s considered just another day in the Bigg Boss house. The behaviour seems natural, because it is natural given the conditions of the house. Being surrounded by strangers and set frustrating tasks to accomplish can trigger cabin fever, and the symptoms are exacerbated during your stay. The arbitrary rules about what inmates can eat, their sleeping times, and a series of humiliating and embarrassing punishments doled out to those who step out of line can play havoc with sleep deprivation, food cravings, and mental constitution. Dr Sarah Angel, who served as the in-house psychologist for Australian version of Bigg Boss, – Big Brother – likened the experience of being locked in a reality TV show to a milder version of the isolation stress and homesickness that astronauts feel on space missions.
Ironically, one of the simplest remedies to cabin fever is to step outside. Just like all Jack had to do was leave The Overlook Hotel. If Rishabh Sinha had stepped outside, we wouldn’t have had to see a grown woman humiliate herself pulling off a Lassie performance art piece. If Swami Om could have just stepped outside, we would have been spared the sight of a grown man throwing excrement like a chimpanzee. If Salman Khan just steps outs – actually, scratch that, we’re all safer when Bhai is indoors.
Dushyant Shekhawat really likes his mustache. He grew it himself. You can find him on Twitter at @SeriousDushyant.