You could be easily forgiven for not having watched, or even knowing about, the 2009 film The Human Centipede. If you hadn’t heard about this film earlier, its title can be a reverse-spoiler: you probably think a ‘human centipede’ is a twisted metaphor for some detestable aspect of the human condition, only to discover that it is in fact grossly literal. In the film, a surgeon kidnaps three people and stitches them together, anus to mouth, to form a centipede, each segment of which is an adult human. The film’s writer and director Tom Six released two more films with the same premise in 2011 and 2015, each more deranged than the last. A friend who managed to watch the third film, simply called The Human Centipede: Final Sequence, said the centipede itself might have been the least objectionable thing about it.
I had occasion to recall these films when, late last month, the Bigg Boss franchise launched Bigg Boss Ultimate (in Tamil), a reality TV show that follows the usual template of a bunch of celebrities being confined in a purpose-built house fit with cameras, supplied with all amenities, and directed by the unseen ‘Bigg Boss’ to perform various tasks together as viewers watch and vote to evict celebrities they dislike from the house. The last person still in the house wins a lot of money. But Bigg Boss Ultimate has an additional ‘feature’: instead of being edited into 60-minute episodes that are released in one or two installments every week, it is live-streamed 24/7 (with a day’s deference) on the OTT platform Disney+ Hotstar. It’s an offset but continuous relay of the participants’ lives, with everything from them lazing around chit-chatting to having loud arguments being watched by lakhs of viewers in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. The mind boggles at what so many people consider to be entertainment, but it boggles more at one factoid that I learnt many years ago and its odd, unsettling resonance the premise of Bigg Boss Ultimate.
The parent concept for the ‘Bigg Boss’ franchise is the Dutch TV franchise ‘Big Brother’, conceived in 1997 by Dutch media tycoon Johannes de Mol, Jr. and produced and aired as a TV show from 1999. And one of the very first directors of this show, which ran for six seasons, was Tom Six. Six has called his three centipede films First Sequence, Full Sequence and Final Sequence. In 2016, he stitched the three films together together and released what he called Complete Sequence – a “movie centipede” in which each film followed the next while being able to stand alone in its own right. Paralleling his efforts, the ‘Bigg Boss’ franchise has now evolved (or devolved?) into an unending broadcast from the house of celebrities. What might have been a single weekly episode earlier now blends seamlessly into the next one, stretching into a 1,700-hour centipede of celebrity culture and voyeurism.
Make no mistake: as vapid as the show is, it’s also a pinnacle of consumerism. It’s hard to watch any segment of Complete Sequence without at least retching, a reaction honed by evolution to keep our bodies away from things that might make us sick or kill us. But Bigg Boss Ultimate has created an analogous centipede for the human psyche, and has convinced people that it’s’ a harmless, even desirable, way to bide their time.
Featured image: Tom Six in June 2013. Credit: Nigeldehond/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.