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Move over sob sisters, Jassi is here!

With Jassi leading the way, our television saas-bahus are gradually giving way to the girls-next-door. Though it is not a sure shot formula for success yet, the idea has indeed clicked, finds out SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY.

REEL MEETS REAL: Mona Singh, the most popular small screen secretary as Plain Jane Jassi (centre) of "Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin", is surrounded by the real life secretaries at a New Delhi function. — Pic. by Rajeev Bhatt.

"Ma sunao mujhe woh kahani
Jisme raja na ho na ho rani
Jo tumhari katha ho
Gandh jisme ho apni dhara ki
Baat jisme na ho apsara ki
Ho na pariyan
jahan aasmani.

Ma sunao mujhe
woh kahani... "

SWITCH ON the TV. Let's hook on to the daily soaps. Sony, Zee, Sahara, Star Plus... Can you see a shift? A subtle, understated move though. Isn't time running out for the ultra rich, swanky saas, bahus, betas and betis knotted in sizzling conspiracy sessions and their incessant designer whining and purring in the finest of finery? Isn't there a slow but sure swing from the out-of-bound, unrealistic frames? No more new aasmani apsara in the garb of a mother or a mother-in-law. No tales of pariyan rolled out as a daughter or a daughter-in-law. No fresh entry of never-ending sagas of ivory tower residents. Isn't it happening?

At last! Only to be replaced by the charm of the girl-next-door. The crown of course, goes to plain Jane Jassi of "Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin" on Sony TV. Being drugged with twists and turns, cunning and crafts of soap queen Ekta Kapoor's K-clan for a long time without a break, Jassi's arrival in September last year came as a whiff of fresh air for the viewers. No one cared if she did not look like them. Everyone wanted a bit of variety.

So Jassi worked fine.

``People were tired of saas-bahu sagas entwined in never ending conspiracies. They needed a change desperately and we gave them Jassi,'' Sunil Lulla, vice-president, Programming, Sony TV, says confidently.

``I could not have been asking for a better break,'' Mona Singh in the garb of Jassi seems to bask in the glory of her debut reel role. And it gave Sony TV a sudden surge in viewership, ushering in 30-40 per cent growth in their advertising revenue within weeks! The channel now charges a whopping Rs. 2 lakhs per spot of advertisement during the Jassi show. The magnetism of the Jassi enigma has delivered a surging 118 per cent growth to the channel in its prime time slot.

So, it is good business!

Thus, more twists and turns begin to rock the Ivory Tower with an urgency. Memory loss, focus on youth, 20-year leaps, face changes... gimmicks, gimmicks and more gimmicks. The K-brigade focus on the Generation Next this time. ``TV provides 25 minutes of escape from realism and hence it also needs to cater to the aspirational values among the viewers as well,'' Rajesh Pavitran, COO of Balaji Telefilms explains. Well, all in the name of middle-class family sagas.

The Sony think-tank too burned the midnight oil. It is cash-in time.

"Saaksshi" premiered in April this year. An ordinary girl being trained as a commando. Not quite a hit with the ratings.

Popped out "Ye Meri Life Hai" in May. Yet another clone of the girl-next-door. Home-grown Pooja ready to piggyback on `channel-sister' Jassi's success. In fact, Jassi was used to promote her. ``Pooja to meri jaisi hai.'' Remember the promos? A middle-class girl from a conservative society with hopes to make it big. She brushes shoulders with Mumbai's rich but then, she is `different.' An ordinary girl who could very well be you and me. And so she should ignite interest. But so far, she has not.

In this case at least, Sony's attempt to show the new path to all in the business has fallen flat with multiple fractures. Pooja never had that `different' look. Having worked in films and a music video that keep popping out of the same TV set off and on, she is not a fresh face. Even if Mona Singh comes in an advertisement, she looks different as Jassi. Pooja's idiosyncrasies are daft and senseless and hence, highly mind-numbing. Doesn't quite jell well with an ambitious girl who wants to be a Karan Johar after all!

Sony drew yet another line with "Kehna Hai Kuch Mujhko" bringing back Pallavi Joshi to tele-serials. This time to tell us about a middle-class wife, long married, now wanting to chase her dream. No good TRPs but has gathered its niche viewers.

But the idea clicked! Zee TV, already armed with a successful Simran of "Astitva... Ek Prem Kahani," realistic being its USP, has now rolled out "Reth." The tale of a bahu-next-door. Her life, her trials, her travails, her katha in a society that has conditioned girls into believing that physical purity is the ultimate honour.

Girl-next-door Pooja in "Ye Meri Life Hai" rode piggyback on `channel-sister' Jassi's success, but in vain.

``It is the tale of a rape victim. We are trying to show that even after losing one's physical honour one can live life if her soul is pure. She cares for her family genuinely but is not a typical instance of a tele-soap bahu flaunting her mangalsutra among other frills,'' says Tejal Shah, the actress who plays Jia, the protagonist, in "Reth." For many an episode, Tejal has not even worn make-up "to look real."

Even Sahara Manoranjan is in tune this time. After being unable to sell stars to TV viewers, they are dishing out "Saathiya - Pyar Ka Naya Ehsaas," with a small-town-girl angle. A rich, spoiled brat of an industrialist's son falls hopelessly for the magic of the girl-next-door, Gayatri.

``The story is about youths far away from the dragging and droning saas-bahu serials. It is a purely romantic, fun soap. The small town girl angle would add a shade of realism to it,'' says Amarr Upadhyay, who features in an important role in the serial. Giving his example, when he left the popular role of Mihir in "Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi" on Star Plus, he remarks, ``The idea of leaping 20 years ahead somewhat sounded unrealistic to me. I did not want to look old when I am not really so.''

So Ekta too is now all set to fall in line! To tell you the story that you want to hear. Having tied up with MTV, she is now on the hunt for a talent who can be the girl-next-door for her upcoming serial, "Kitni Mast Hai Zindagi."

``It will be a mellow drama and not a melodrama. The story is about the growth of a girl, Ananya, who comes to Mumbai from a small town,'' the lady has felt the popular pulse.

Looking at the frames finely, one finds nevertheless that Tulsi in Ekta's "Kyunki Saas... " too was once a simple, girl-next-door. All our sympathies for her have their roots in this point, isn't it? But, the ostentatious saas-bahu syndrome was the need of the hour. And now, it is not. So, if you can't beat them, might as well join them.

But then, Sony has more things to worry about. Jassi's doings will slowly reach a saturation point. A Singapore trip for Jassi and Saif Ali Khan's cameo, recently, had to come in for the rescue, when the serial's ratings suddenly dipped. Reportedly, Vivek Oberoi in his `Vakao' Elvis-look is waiting in the wings if ratings play dirty again.

But will that be enough to keep this girl-next-door not run-of-the-mill going? If yes, then for how long?

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