Millions ride on Rahul Mahajan, punters' favourite on TV show

New Delhi, Nov 2 (IANS) Initially one of the weakest candidates, "Bigg Boss" participant Rahul Mahajan has now sprung a surprise as the hot favourite of punters who have placed bets running into millions of rupees on his winning the TV reality show.

According to rough estimates provided by bookies and punters, at least Rs.800 million Rs.80 crores) is riding on Rahul, who is the son of late Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Pramod Mahajan and was arrested here on charges of drug possession and consumption in 2006.

Rahul is among the six contenders who still remain in the "Bigg Boss" house as the show, which began in August, nears conclusion.

"Earlier Rahul was seen as one of the weakest candidates. But now no one doubts his chances of winning the television show. He is witty, sharp and now the most popular among housemates as well as in the outside world," a city-based bookie told IANS on condition of anonymity.

Rahul's closest contender is model-turned-actor Zulfi Sayed with bets of Rs.650 million/Rs.60 crores) on him. Raja Chaudhary, whose only claim to fame is his divorce from television star Shweta Tiwari, shares space with Ashutosh Kaushik, winner of the "MTV Roadies" show, with Rs.200 million/Rs.20 crores) each.

Former Miss Universe Diana Hayden is seen as the lame duck in the race with hardly any punters favouring her. But Monica Bedi, former starlet and ex-girlfriend of underworld mobster Abu Salem, has a slim chance.

Participants are shown living inside the "Bigg Boss" house, totally cut off from the world outside. House inmates are routinely evicted as per an audience poll. The person who remains till the end is proclaimed the winner.

"We believe Rahul's political background and controversial past have earned him a lot of publicity," the bookie said. "The way he has survived five eviction nominations has actually forced people to think that he will not lose because of some backing from outside."

Punters were really surprised when Debojit Saha, winner of the music reality show "Sa Re Ga Ma Pa" was asked to leave the "Bigg Boss" house two weeks ago.

"We thought Debojit would stay in the house at least till the end because of his large fan following. People often argue that the entire show is stage-managed," the bookie said.

A punter is a person who puts his money or bets on a team or individual. A bookie in general refers to a person who runs a book that contains the details of punters and their betting money. The entire business is considered illegal in India.

A bookie generally looks after 15-20 punters. Several bookies then deal with a single agent, appointed for a particular state or area. A few people from the country as well as abroad control the network of such agents. It is believed that the entire network is run from Dubai and in India their networking point is Mumbai.

One bookie said that people strongly believe "Bigg Boss" will lack spice if Rahul is thrown out of the house.

"Punters believe that organisers would not take such risk because of TRPs. They say Monica Bedi was brought in only to add spice to the show after the eviction of Payal Rohatgi. Going by this logic, punters are betting largely on Rahul," the bookie reasoned.

"Their reasons are the same for Ashutosh and Diana. People think 'Bigg Boss' would keep those people in the house who add colour and drama."

Bookies say the total betting amount on the game show could be something around Rs.4-5 billion, barley 1/15th or even less than what is at stake for reality shows like "Big Brother", "Survivor" and "American Idol".

"This sort of betting still has to take root in the country as most people don't have any knowledge. People are still cricket crazy here. Either they bet on cricket matches or on elections which have a bigger market," said a Mumbai-based bookie, who has been part of a clandestine network for some time.

A senior Delhi Police official said they were aware of such betting but had failed to make any arrests.

"We always believe that the viewing audience ultimately decides who wins and who gets voted out, but it is the producers and editing teams who decide what impression the audience gets from each character," the official said.

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