By Ruchira Bose
A kick-ass professional, confident, ambitious, caring and progressive. Are we describing Jassi or millions of women emerging from a new India —anchored by values but fired up with the hope to excel in life! Does Jassi describe who we are today?
"I grew up in Jalandhar, where beauty parlours had hair all over the floor, combs had lice and if you said 'loofah' they thought you were referring to a roadside romeo," says Bobby, 29, owner of a day spa in Mumbai. "All my friends are having sex. It's ok. I don't think any less of them because they are sexually active," says Sharda, 27, an account planning director with an advertising agency.
"I'd never betray my family's trust. They've supported me all through my life — I would never have been able to achieve all of this if it wasn't for them. But choosing my life partner doesn't mean I am betraying them," says Kumud, 26, running her own PR company in Mumbai and about to marry a man of her choice but from a different community.
"So I don't have the perfect figure! It doesn't matter to my clients — they are happy as long as I keep making money for them," says Sheetal, an investment advisor.
Any of these statements could have been made by Jassi — from the immensely popular series 'Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin'. But they were made by real women. Women you probably work with, shop with, or party with. Movies aren't the only things crossing over.
Generation W is making a transition and straddling two worlds increasingly as successfully and smoothly as a Cirque de Soleil juggler juggles knives and balls. More important, Gen W is high on the latest drug a fast-growing economy has brought to us: Hope. "The hope that we can achieve what we want to is even more ferocious and rooted in the lives of people for who it may seem otherwise unattainable," says Sunil Lulla, Vice President, SET.
Whether it's unattainable because we are women, or ugly, or fat, or poor or have a bad dress sense is inconsequential; these elements are beginning to matter less as we become invaluable at the workplace and outside, and that is what seems to translate Jassi's popularity not just into a high TRP but also into a trend.
Connecting with Jassi
Like millions of middle class Indian girls, Jassi too aspires to make a mark for herself with her never-say-die attitude yet gullible nature. The show brings out the eternal conflicts between the middle and upper classes, simplicity and glamour, artificial facades and true inner beauty.
'Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin' has all the ingredients to make it connect well with its viewers — a contemporary setting, a metrosexual man and fashionable socialites contrasting with a plain, ordinary girl aspiring to be accepted in high society and determined to make it big one day.
Tony and Deeya Singh, the producers of 'Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin', Sony, the channel that airs it, and thousands of viewers believe that Jassi is also popular because she embodies a little bit of all of us.
All of us who are part of a new India in which we work in organisations with global corporate cultures, go home and arrange dinner, party with friends, coordinate with plumbers and electricians during a meeting and still manage to meet deadlines.
"She's very real. Her innocence is not contrived and everything she does seems very real. We've managed to take viewers who are accustomed to seeing serials with a home environment to one that bridges both home and office and that allows more people to relate to it," says Mr Lulla.
"I feel it's Jassi's innocence and naivete that really works for her character and is winning people's hearts. Also, her love for her family and the earnestness in anything and everything that she does is very true and special. Which is why so many viewers can easily identify with her," says Mona Singh who plays Jassi.
Jassi also appears in our lives at a time when 'saas-bahu' serials are turning stale.
There's boredom in watching women in yards of silk or chiffon finery. Instead, it's refreshing to see a head whose crowning glory is not a mop of streaked or permed tresses lined with a designer 'sindoor' or 'bindi' but a Sadhna-cut, pony-tailed simplicity. A face that stands, not on a bejewelled, 'mangalsutra'-clad neck, but competent, no-frills shoulders.
Jassi is the centre of both her universes — whether it's at work or at home, she is trusted, she has responsibilities, and things in both places can't function well without her. This is a growing aspiration among women — to be the centre of their universe. Some have made it, while the rest of us make our way there gradually, like Jassi.
Image Is Everything
Standing on the threshold of a new millennium — at ground zero — we are confronted by a world where a day's reality seems to melt away in the wake of the next. Each season's allotment of recognisable images, for an instant so salient and compelling, are soon consumed by a black hole. Like clockwork, new images, new fascinations, new emergencies, arrive to take their place.
'Rajni', Kavita Chowdhry of 'Udaan', Neean Gupta from 'Saans', Tulsi, Clinton and Monica, Windows 95, break dancing, remixes, Botox, Saddam, and now Jassi. Along the way, social memory, a sense of continuity, slips away. This perpetually changing field of vision has, for many contributed to a sense that meaning has no half-life, that we occupy a time of no enduring ideas, no over arching values or questions.
Given this, every time an image or icon has taken birth, it's nudged our attitudes just a little further.
"TV is a more intimate viewing environment than movies or other out-of-home entertainment. It has therefore a very different impact," points Mr Lulla.
While movies in the 60s flashed images of fashion and centred around values and morals; 70s brought action and romance; then as TV arrived in the 80s and Cable TV arrived in the 90s, movies were no more the only source of images for viewers, he explains.
"TV is also a more real medium than cinema. And when you tell a story of a very human character, the impact is greater. You can create something for everyone to take away from the series. There's a lesson for parents — that there's something good in your child that you should recognise, trust your child," says Deeya Singh, co producer of JJKN. "I read the script and thought I want a daughter like Jassi!"
"When we began production for this show,
I also remembered a quote I had heard once: Your serial should 'divide the family' who is viewing it. In the sense that each member should have a different opinion. And Jassi sometimes throws up situations which are debatable."
A Real-Life Jassi
Nidhi Gandhi (28), runs her own PR firm, Keystone Communications
"I come from a middle class background. My dad retired from Indian Airlines so, touch wood, I've had all the comforts of life. But in Public Relations, I had to start from scratch."
"I am where I am thanks to my own hard work and dedication — with almost no support. Though I'm still pretty small in my venture, yet it's a great feeling to run your own company. I never thought I'd have the confidence to do it, but yeah, I managed to pull it off. Now I know that there is a god up there who is watching over us, and he balances our lives in one way or the other."
"My priority is my family without a doubt as without a strong family support it is very difficult to be a successful individual, personally or professionally.
"I usually dress up in Indian and western wear. But for work, it is essentially Indian as believe it or not, women dressed in westerns still intimidate the opposite sex."
Jassi Ke Number
In the first week of November, 2003, Jassi was scoring a TRP of 8.2 close on the heels of its competitors like 'Kasauti' on Star Plus that ranked at 10.1 in the same week. Meanwhile, a survey on young women done by Grey India titled 'Eves Dropping' found women saying:
- "I want to have fun in life, no waiting for things to happen for me" and "The whole point of living is about you getting what you want"
Mini metros: 65 per cent
Major metros: 45 per cent
- Money, fame and success in life makes you happy.
Mini metros: 85 per cent
Major metros: 30 per cent
- "I can live happily without ever getting married."
Mini metros: 76 per cent
Major metros: 39 per cent
- 74 per cent of women in mini metros didn't associate or react positively to the portrayal of women in the media.
Even those who want to be like Tulsi are redefining it: A majority of women believe that after marriage they will have separate bank accounts, their husbands have to accept them the way they are and that they will continue working.
art of Jassi's success lies in its unique packaging and marketing. "We wanted a strong hold on the 9.30 pm slot. We found that women wanted to project themselves in different roles. They were tired of the way they are shown in the media. And because the format of the serial is unconventional, the marketing also had to be.
"If we had shown Jassi in the promos before the series began, no one would have watched it. It's only because we created such hype and everyone thought it would be some supermodel, that the impact was huge.
We had built the intrigue by continuously describing her attributes – she's clever, she's caring, she's bright, she's funny. We created an aura around her that said 'We don't need to know how she looks – she sounds so fabulous!'" explains Mr Sunil Lulla.
"Even now, we continue to do ground events, have her meet her fans, we've launched Jassi ringtones and merchandise," he adds.