Last week, the Tamil reality show Bigg Boss broke the internet, but not because of its highly popular and controversial host Kamal Haasan. It was a little-known 26-year-old Tamil model and actor who set off the Twitter trend #SaveOviya for a week.
The Tamil version of Bigg Boss is immensely popular, reportedly gathering a viewership of 3.6 crores in the first two weeks since it went on air on June 25. The format is syndicated from the British show Big Brother: several celebrities are locked inside a house and are constantly being filmed by 30 cameras. Each week, the housemates vote among themselves for candidates to be put up for elimination. The viewers at home vote to save the contestant they support on the show. The housemate with the least votes is eliminated.
In the Tamil version, which follows numerous editions in Hindi, 15 men and women have chosen house arrest for a 100-day period. The other actors among the contestants are Shree, Bharani and Namitha.
Oviya, previously known as Helen Nelson, had been up for elimination three times, and each time, she was saved by audience votes. Before her Bigg Boss stint, Oviya had starred alongside Prithviraj in the Malayalam film Kangaroo and the Tamil romantic comedy Kalavani. She is now an internet sensation for her carefree, non-confrontational attitude in a show that revels in cattiness and aggression.
With the contestants living in close proximity for weeks with no contact with the outside world, personality clashes abound. Despite the fact that almost all the housemates seem to share a common animosity towards Oviya and often verbally abuse her – particularly Bharatiya Janata Party member Gayathri Raghuram – the actor has held her own, earning the admiration of viewers. In one episode, however, she finally began to crack, kicking off the Save Oviya campaign on social media.
A number of groups and pages erupted across Facebook, calling for a Save Oviya Movement on Chennai’s Marina beach. “This is to support our Thalaivi Oviya from anti social elements such as Gayatri (BJP), Nami(o)tha and backstabber Julie,” read the Facebook event hosted by Tamil Dank Memes.
At one point on the show, when the leader of the house argued with Oviya over a set of rules being followed, she uttered the words, “Neenga Shut Up Pannunga” (Please shut up), which became an instant hit for the firm yet respectful way with which she made her point. The statement has inspired T-shirts, cover photos on Facebook and even a song.
There even seems to be a mobile game, where you have to shoot all contestants except Oviya.
Tamil Nadu loves its cult figures, and Oviya is steadily becoming one. The ‘Oviya Army’ and ‘Oviyans’ in the state have already decided that the actress will be the next Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, no less. At a time when Tamil Nadu is facing one crisis after another, Oviya seems to have become a welcome distraction from the headlines.