|and Tony Singh to audition for the lead role of a gauche secretary in their forthcoming serial, Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin. Luckily, that day, Jasmeet tripped on the stairs, her portfolio came flying out. Deeya and Tony were so impressed with her inherent clumsiness that they immediately decided to put her in an ungainly salwar-kameez. Then they gave her ugly braces and a huge pair of glasses. Thus was born the plain-Jane Jassi—a star so popular that film actress Juhi Chawla has been impersonating her in commercials and secretaries all over India are inviting her as a guest of honour at their annual functions. The Fact is, once Jassi stumbled onto big time, and the other life—Mona Singh—can very well take a backseat.|
Jassi is not the only one. There is a whole new breed of TV stars who are mustering a huge fan following and getting instant fame and recognition. In fact, they are becoming mini-institutions in their own right. "TV stars are getting more starry—everyday, new icons are being created. Thus far, we had only two religions in India—cricket and cinema. Now television is emerging as the new creator of gods," says Deepak Segal, Star's senior VP for content and programming.
And money is pouring in as well. Though the average fee for TV stars is pegged at Rs 20,000-25,000 per episode, a big TV star could be charging not just by the episode but by the day or even by the hour, taking home as much as a lakh for a day's work. "I'm 25 and already have a house and car of my own," says Jassi, modestly adding, "It's very satisfying." Shweta Keswani, better known as Avantika in Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki and Anu in Desh Mein Nikla Hoga Chand, began working on TV soaps for "big pocket money". "But work (and money) kept happening so I decided to continue with it," she says. It's fast money and stretches a long way if the serial runs long on extensions. Then, there are the spin-offs—countless ads and lucrative endorsement deals.
No wonder, television is no longer just a launchpad into cinema; actors would rather remain on the small screen than chase 70 mm dreams. After all, it's better to remain in the top league on television than be relegated to item numbers in films. Smriti 'Tulsi' Irani of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi is grateful to TV for all the success. "I don't understand the need to 'move on' if television is fulfilling my creative ambitions. It has given me all that I have today," she says. And if people like Shweta are also looking at working in films, it's not because they consider television "stop-gap" but because they're looking for a "change". "Otherwise, it can get boring and monotonous," says Shweta. As Sumit Sachdev, Gautam in Kyunki..., puts it: "TV now is a parallel profession to films."
It's also creating a parallel galaxy of stars. However, TV stardom is very different from the pecking order prevalent in films. On the face of it, Jassi would look totally unsuitable for the job of a star. After all, stardom is all about charisma, glitz and glamour. However, on TV it's about instant identification and approachability. Jassi is the kind of person you wouldn't even look at once, forget twice. But it's this "less-than-average" personality of hers that's able to reach out to audiences far and wide. So when you encounter TV stars on the streets you don't stare at them from a distance or talk in hushed whispers. You talk to them because they are one of us. "We become part of the family," says Irani.
|"A film lasts for three hours while we come into your homes daily," says Jassi"There's a lot of love one gets from all age groups—two to 80," adds Sachdev.|
The recognition level is huge. "People associate with us, there's an instant connection, fans get involved with our on-screen lives, they live our stories," says Rakshanda Khan, Mallika of Jassi Jaisi.... That is why she was offered much sympathy by an Indian viewer in Chicago when Mallika's engagement with Armaan broke off in the serial.
Cinema is a more exclusive medium, while TV stars are the kind you can touch and feel.
|Unlike cinema where the number of big stars can be counted on your fingertips, television has the problem of plenty. Each as popular as the other. So who makes for the pick of the lot? Here's our list:
||"Filmstars are always behind an invisible wall which makes them unreachable but we get to know TV stars better since we see them everyday," adds Segal. Also, TV stars don't get mobbed the way filmstars do. "We can go out and have a good time," says Shweta.|
The reachability of television gets reflected in its style statements as well. So, if hip
|urban youth follow the styles of Main Hoon Naa or Dil Chahta Hai, it's the TV fashion trends that are quickly getting replicated in middle-class or small-town Indian homes. Be it the Komolika-style sexy blouses and saris or Ramona Sikand's elaborate bindis or those mile-long mangalsutras of Kyunki.... Fashion designer Satya Paul has even launched an entire range of clothing as a tribute to Jassi, the last person you'd associate with fashion.|
Perhaps the reachability and connect also stems from the fact that TV stories and stars are all from our neighbourhoods, literally. It is said that in Mumbai every building houses at least one TV star. Television has opened a world of opportunity for common people and with a number of channels and shows on view, it's emerging as a huge avenue to absorb people. It's this "one of us" factor that led to the launch of Star Parivar Awards.
"The sheer number of people watching our soaps and serials was mind-boggling. The emotional connect was apparent," says Segal. However, what surprised the channel was the fact that the Star Parivar show fetched a record rating of 14.8, almost double the trps of film events and film award shows. Since then, Star has also organised the Aapke Star Aapke Ghar, an event where TV stars visited homes and received more than just a warm welcome.
At its basic, TV stardom boils down to effectively managing the constant personality shifts. Like Sudha Chandran who confesses to have forgotten her real name and introduces herself as Ramona Sikand, the character she played in Kahiin Kisi Roz. These incredible transitions are the most important part of any TV star's job. Unlike cinema, TV stardom is all about the popularity of the character than the actor. The identification with characters is absolute. And the more skilfully a character is forged, stronger is the hysteria surrounding it. "You almost forget that these people have a life of their own," says Segal.
It also makes TV stardom that much more limiting and transitory. The fame lasts as long as your serial or character does. You also get stamped for life. Like Navneet Nishan would always be known as Tara. Some stars are actively trying to step out of the trap. Shekhar Suman has become a brand in his own way. Smriti Irani, Tulsi at her most popular 'self', is creating space for her real self by hosting TV chat shows, like Kuch Dil Se, and, of course, by joining politics. "Image shouldn't trap you. You could put your foot into a variety of things," she says.
But you can't dispute the fact that a serial and star are always mutually dependent. "A serial can't take off if actors don't play their parts well. They have to bring in the emotional involvement," says Segal. "Actors bring their own brand of individuality to characters.I can't play Jassi the same way as Jassi can't play my Mallika," says Rakshanda.But at the end of the day, both cinema and TV are about hard work. "Sometimes we have to work round-the-clock, 15-18 hours with no offs," says Jassi. She also knows that Jassi is not going to last forever."What starts has to end somewhere," she says. Life will not stop after that. Only Jassi will become Mona Singh. Or will she?