Blueprint of a Bully: The Ugly Truth Behind Sidharth Shukla’s Bigg Boss Season 13 Win

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Blueprint of a Bully: The Ugly Truth Behind Sidharth Shukla’s Bigg Boss Season 13 Win

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The supposedly mindless act of watching Bigg Boss Season 13 is actually a mammoth undertaking. 140 days. 139 episodes, of 60 to 90 minutes each. And yet, I’ve managed to consume it all, and then some. I’ve been a Bigg Boss addict for several seasons now, and everytime the show airs its grand finale, I feel a gaping, reality TV-shaped hole in my life.

“Yeah, a part of mine wants to cut that part and throw it out, and the other part wants to keep it. And the latter is haavi on the part that wants to throw it out,” is what Bigg Boss host and expert at being human, Salman Khan, said when addressing rumours of him leaving the show. I feel the same way. I love it enough to not miss a single episode, but it also induces a feeling of guilt. Normally, it’s just the routine guilt of being the type of person who watches Bigg Boss, but this season, there was more to that feeling. It went beyond the demand for trash TV; it felt like being witness to something that made me deeply uncomfortable and being a part that furthered it along.

Bigg Boss has always been a wet dream for those who love drama, and Season 13 stayed the course. Moving beyond the token star-attraction, we saw some of the biggest faces of Indian television — Sidharth Shukla, Rashmi Desai, Arti Singh, Mahira Sharma, Vishal Singh, Madhurima Tuli, Paras Chhabra, and others — fiercely battle it out for the title of Cringiest of Them All. The show also saw not-so-popular celebs (also known as the B-list’s B-list), Shehnaz Gill and Asim Riaz climb the charts of fame with their attention-grabbing antics. For the first time, Bigg Boss even resorted to revealing shocking personal details of contestants with no correlation whatsoever to the ongoings of the house in a timely fashion to keep the ratings up. However, one celebrity who managed to remain in the limelight despite constantly erupting scandals was Sidharth Shukla.

What we saw on national television was the blueprint of a bully, a toxic man-child, stubborn and without grace in defeat.

The popular star of Balika Vadhu fame and now Bigg Boss Season 13’s winner, Shukla emerged as one of the most controversial contestants from day one. His rumoured exes Rashami Desai, Shefali Jariwala, and Arti Singh being in the same house as competitors this season only added fuel to fire. Even before Bigg Boss though, Sidharth seems to have waded into one controversy after another. Known to be the king of tantrums in TV insider circles, the actor’s claim to fame include an arrest in a rash driving case, alleged misbehaviour with female co-actors including Rashami Desai, Sheetal Khandal, Toral Rasputra, and more recently Shilpa Shinde’s shocking revelation of physical abuse when they were “dating” many moons ago. His latest stint in Bigg Boss then only seems to have put up for public display what TV insiders already acknowledge in whispers.

What we saw on national television was the blueprint of a bully, a toxic man-child, stubborn and without grace in defeat. There’s hardly an episode where we didn’t see him get physically violent and abusive towards fellow contestants, which included brazenly pushing women in tasks. His bad-tempered and ill-mannered personality showcased on TV night after night didn’t seem to deter his fans. Despite being nominated by Bigg Boss himself for his violent behaviour, and being subtly chided by Salman too for his aggression on numerous occasions, Shukla appears to have won all the popular votes. It was almost as if it’s still the early ’90s and it’s cool to say, “Aww, but men will be men. Male ego you know!”

Whatever happened to Bigg Boss’ strict action against the physical violence “niyam ulanghan”? Whether it was him pushing Mahira Sharma early in the show during a task, repeatedly assaulting Asim Riaz, or holding Shehnaz Gill by her neck and pinning her to the ground, the makers appeared to have gone out of their way to justify his actions instead of evicting him. Who can forget how he assassinated Rashami Desai’s character in the “aisi ladki” fight? Or him repeatedly dismissing “good friend” Arti Singh and calling her dumb on national television? Besides threatening male contestants by asking them to meet him outside the house, Shukla also used any and every opportunity to pass derogatory remarks and insult housemates. From body-shaming fellow contestants to making fun of the #MeToo movement, he seems to have done it all. Truly the signs of a winner!

As much as his fans are to be blamed for his popularity in Bigg Boss Season 13, one can’t ignore the fact that the makers seemed to have turned a blind eye to every wrongdoing in the garb of entertainment. In the four-and-a-half months that the show aired on TV, Shukla’s problematic, abusive behaviour was consistently brushed off as an angry young man who just happens to react when provoked. Both the host and Bigg Boss seemed careful in their choice of words when scolding him. It’s hard not to notice this when in the past seasons contestants have been evicted for similar behaviour. It also makes one wonder then if Bigg Boss was biased towards Shukla in its bid for TRPs. If true, by making him victorious, Bigg Boss has set a terrible precedent.

It’s 2020 and only obvious to expect reality show makers know the difference between voyeuristic TV and giving abusive men a platform. For the first time in years, I’m glad the show has ended. Disappointed as I am with Bigg Boss Season 13, in our lord and saviour Salman Khan’s own words, “It gets stressful, but I learn a lot. And I get to know where the country is going, what is happening to values, morals, scruples and principles. We see it right there, with celebrities.”