There is no reason to take credit for this success." Famous last words?
Not when it comes to professionals working in the cut-throat Indian television industry, where the spotlight is everything and credit is begged, borrowed and stolen. But with a nonchalant shrug, 36-year-old costume designer Ritu Deora absolves the opportunity to bask in reflected glory.
While she doesn't dismiss her role in the creation of national television icon, Jassi, Deora refuses to hog the limelight alone. "I just create her clothes.
It's team work that pays off," says the soft-spoken best costume designer awardee, India Telly Awards 2003 (for Des Mein Niklla Hoga Chand). There is also no question of feeling overshadowed by Jassi's enormous success and the hype that the serial enjoys: "It's never been that way," insists Deora.
Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin just happened to Deora. "I've been working in the industry for ten years and I've worked with Deeya and Tony Singh, the producers, previously. So it came as no surprise when I was asked to handle costumes for Sony's Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin." That was in the beginning of 2003, when the inception of the serial had first taken root.
Along with members of the production team, Deora sat in on several meetings and auditions for over three months that eventually culminated in deciding the look of the main character and who would play Jassi's role. Deora reveals that "at least three more new faces had been auditioned for Jassi's part, before Mona Singh was finalised. She fitted the look."
Ritu Deora holds up the first costume that Jassi wore
A pilot study was conducted on Yo Soy Betty Fe Lea (I Am Betty The Ugly), admits Deora. Yo Soy Betty Fe Lea (see box) is the original Colombian soap opera that has supposedly been adapted into Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin. Betty has been Indianised, creating Jassi.
Working in accordance with a given brief, Deora made Jassi look like a twin to her Colombian counterpart - the same fringed wig, thick spectacles and baggy attire make-up the ensemble of both characters. The emulation paid off; the serial and the character have created history, as they did in Columbia.
Deora designed costumes for Jassi keeping in mind that "as little skin as possible should be seen", a rule of thumb that Betty's designers may have also religiously adhered to.
Other golden rules are revealed by Subhash Murarka, the man who has actually tailored more than a 100 Jassi costumes. 'No garish colours are used. The collar must be closed and close-fitting. Matching cloth strips are laid over the wrist and collar. And every salwar kameez that she wears must have a slip inside — so that she looks a little overweight."
Obsession and detail rule the serial. Deora and producers still debate endlessly over roundness of necklines, whether Jassi should switch to western wear or not. But how much of Jassi's celebrity status and the serial's success can be attributed to her appearance and costume? "It's a combination of everything — clothes, acting, script.
She plays the average-Joe, so she must look the part. But what really works is her character. She appeals to everyone - from my children to old people," says Deora. Murarka agrees. "It's a touching serial. That can't be entirely because of her clothes!"
Nevertheless, it is important to note that Jassi's clothes and overall look have attracted as much attention as say, Ramola's bindis, but for exactly the opposite reasons.
Despite being a lauded role model, Jassi is no trend-setter. As Deora explains, "Everyone has noticed Jassi's clothes, maybe because of the publicity. But no one wants to look or dress like her." Presently, fans should not expect that to change. "Jassi might undergo a style transformation later," adds Deora mischievously.
Meanwhile, Jassi's designer remains immersed in yards of fabric and script, confined to her designer studio, Ritu Designer Creations in Kandivali, and Murarka to the sewing machine in the dingy workshop, a stone's throw away from the studio.
Designing costumes not only for the entire cast of Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin but for more than twenty serials currently running on different television channels, Deora and her team of tailors and assistants have their hands full.
Apart from this, Deora can also boast of having done costumes for Hindi films, such as Fiza and Nayak. She and her husband, Rajan, are also in the midst of opening a boutique, for middle-class people who want "affordable fashion".
Despite the heavy workload, both Deora and Murarka find time to watch their favourite shows, one of which is Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin. "My TV opens four screens together. So many serials I design clothes for are aired at primetime — I sit with my family and watch them all together," laughs the television buff.
And how does it feel, watching Jassi attired in their creations whenever she appears in public? "It feels great," says Deora. Murarka is more vocal. "We have met her so many times in person. She is a sincere, hard-working girl and deserves success. And I am a big fan!"