Bigg Boss, the wildly popular Indian version of Big Brother, has been mired in an ugly row since it premiered on Colors TV on Saturday.
The 16th season of the show, hosted by Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, has been criticised for including film director Sajid Khan as a housemate.
Four years ago, Khan was accused of sexual misconduct by eight female colleagues and a journalist. He had denied the accusations and no police case was brought against him. But ever since the show revealed the names of the housemates, hundreds of people, many of them women, have taken to social media to express their “disgust” and “anger” at his inclusion.
Singer Sona Mohapatra said Indian TV channels were a “depraved and a sad lot” for including men called out for sexual harassment. Journalist Barkha Dutt tweeted that Khan’s inclusion showed “utter contempt for what so many women feel” and MeTooIndia – an unofficial account created by a journalist after the 2018 movement to amplify the voices of Indian survivors – wondered why the organisers were silent.
The protest is also because of the reach of Bigg Boss – it is considered to be India’s most popular reality show, racking up tens of billions of hours of viewing time. Its popularity has gone up many times since 2020 when it was made available on Voot – an Indian digital streaming service.
So calls have been growing to drop Khan from the show, a petition to banish him from the Bigg Boss house has already received more than 5,000 signatures. “This is sickening, and this is vile. It is extremely insulting and demoralising to victims and survivors who continue to fight for justice today,” the petition says.
The allegations against Khan came in 2018, after the MeToo movement started in the US, many women in India took to Twitter to call out comedians, journalists, authors, actors and filmmakers. Khan, a successful director who had worked with some of Bollywood’s biggest stars, was among those named by mostly aspiring actresses and a female journalist.
He denied the allegations, but was suspended by the Indian Film and Television Directors’ Association for a year.
After he was also dropped as director from his film Housefull4, he tweeted in 2018:
“In the wake of the allegations against me and the pressure being put on my family, my producer [and] the stars of my film Houseful4, I must take the moral responsibility of stepping down from my directorial post, till the time I can allay the allegations and prove the truth… I request my friends in the media to kindly not pass judgement till the truth is out.”
At Saturday’s premier, he acknowledged the allegations against him – he said he had been sitting at home for the past four years because he did not get much work, but blamed his downfall on his “arrogance”, saying that after a number of his films became hits, he started to believe that he was infallible.
“It’s said that failure destroys people. But in my case, it was success that destroyed me,” he said. The fall from grace, he said, was “God’s way of telling him that he had to become a better person”. But his return to the limelight obviously hasn’t gone to plan – the outrage over the allegations against him have meant that many are still unwilling to give him a second chance.