Despite several efforts by local television networks, reality television shows have never really taken off in Pakistan. Whether it was a look at a singer trying to stage a comeback (MTV Pakistan’s “MTV Komal”) or a hunt for a news anchor (Samaa’s “The Anchor”), the feverish excitement that usually surrounds reality television shows has been largely absent in Pakistan.
Enter “Bigg Boss 4”, the fourth season of the controversial Indian spinoff of “Celebrity Big Brother” that has mostly featured B-list celebrities. The current season became the first show to feature two Pakistani stars that were only known in India for their ‘scandal’ value — actor and host Veena Malik and cross-dressing talk show host Ali Saleem. News of the show spread by word-of-mouth, given that Indian channels have been pulled off air in Pakistan, many just didn’t have access to it.
But those who did reported back nuggets that were both riveting and satisfied everyone’s innate need for gossip: Saleem had to do his own make-up on the show; Malik shared sordid details of her relationship with cricketer Mohammad Asif and was flirting with fellow contestant and actor Ashmit Patel. The details, reported both in the Indian and Pakistani press, also fuelled Shiv Sena protests against the inclusion of the two Pakistani personalities.
Now that ARY TV is broadcasting the show (albeit with a two-week delay) ¸”Bigg Boss 4” is being streamed into houses across Pakistan. Aaj TV’s popular “The 4 Man Show” featured a spoof of “Bigg Boss 4” in a recent episode and Malik is the focal point of daily show recaps in the Indian press.
While Saleem was eliminated early on in the season, Veena Malik, by far, has proved to be a huge draw for audiences in India and Pakistan. She is already a household name in Pakistan, courtesy the Asif controversy and her work on two popular TV shows — Geo TV’s “Hum Sab Umeed Se Hain” and Dunya TV’s “Miss Dunya”. There are hundreds of comments about her on YouTube and other news websites, by people both raving about her and raging against her, putting her down for being “frustrated”, “disgusting” and doing this as a “cheap publicity stunt”.
In defence of Veena Malik, blogger Kala Kawa wrote on his blog (kalakawa.wordpress.com), “In a global discourse where the Pakistani woman is seen as a submissive creature with no independence, I’m delighted to have someone like Veena crushing those stereotypes. While always wearing five inch heels […] I (somewhat ashamedly) watch far too much reality television. In many ways, Veena ranks among the most interesting and engaging characters I’ve come across. As far as achieving her goal goes, I’d say she’s done pretty well. You’ve got to be somewhat smart to accomplish that.”
Surprisingly, while stronger contestants such as Sameer Soni have been eliminated from “Bigg Boss 4”, Malik has managed to stay in the competition.
She walks around the house in high heels, smart ensembles and full make up while her housemates lounge around in slippers and nightclothes, their star personas diminished as they try to do household chores. Malik has built a solid relationship with most of the housemates, establishing herself as confidante, helper and a relationship prospect — after Patel; she also started a flirtation with another contestant, model Hrishant Goswami.
She has proved to be a smooth operator on a show that is full of petty fights about food, name-calling and power struggles — a show that really is about ‘the survival of the fittest’ and getting television ratings. The channel airing “Bigg Boss 4”– Colors TV — reportedly paid INR25 million to former “Baywatch” star Pamela Anderson to appear on the show for three days (who Malik taught the art of making rotis). It also brought in ‘visitors’ such as Bollywood A-list actors Ajay Devgn, Kareena Kapoor, Imran Khan and Deepika Padukone to interact with contestants on the set.
The show itself is hosted by Salman Khan; with former hosts including actors Arshad Warsi, Shilpa Shetty and Amitabh Bachchan.
But does Malik’s success — and the interest in the show in Pakistan — mean that this could be a format Pakistani entertainment channels could replicate? Housing a group of mixed genders without raising hackles would be one. Also, production values in both countries differ immensely. The unfortunate death of a contestant in an adventure/reality show which was being shot in Thailand became a huge talking point in Pakistan and underscored the dangers of producing reality television shows.
There are a few success stories though, of productions such as Hum TV’s “Maachis”, which followed a format similar to “The Jerry Springer Show”, the shift over the past decade to new concepts (in Pakistan) such as soap operas, talent hunts and morning talk shows may help reality television kick off in a big way. While it may not be soon, the reality television phenomenon is coming and the five-inch-heel clad Malik may be paving the way.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2010.