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Plain Jane Jassi takes on prime-time saas-bahus

Mumbai, Dec. 2: “We want a Jassi too.”

So went a recent ad in an English daily. “Required immediately — a young, smart, well-mannered lady with excellent communication skills for the post of SECRETARY to the M.D,” says the advertiser, R.D.M. Traders from West Patel Nagar, New Delhi.

Jassi may be young, smart and well-mannered, but also ugly, gawky, bespectacled, her teeth are held in place by a prominent pair of braces and her hairstyle would suit Laloo Prasad better. She is the woman whose ordinariness is grotesquely exaggerated. But the eponymous heroine of the Sony serial, Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin, is the country’s latest heart-throb, and not only for future employers.

Last week Sony Entertainment was flooded with 17,000 SMS messages from viewers when Jassi faced a dilemma on whether or not to accept a hefty bribe.

For Jassi, the young business administration graduate, who began underemployed as a secretary in a fashion house but shot up to a top post soon with her intelligence, hard work and dogged devotion to her attractive (male) boss, has a family that is in dire need of money. But she is also the repository of honesty, integrity and all other so-called sound middle class values.

Jassi is also a serious threat to the small screen’s reigning queens — the redoubtable saas- bahus. The serial’s TRP rates are marching on.

Averaging around 6, they are below the saas-bahus, but a spectacular achievement for a newcomer who is about three-months old on the small screen. Husbands, grandfathers and serious professionals have taken to keeping themselves free from 9.30, when Jassi starts on prime time.

Last week, Jassi — the actress’ identity is yet to be revealed — rocked the nation. At the Jassi Pal Club, started by Sony, there was a flood of email from agitated young women.

“I know that your parents have done a lot for you and they are in need of your help but then taking the bribe and helping your parents with that money itself is not good,” wrote Nabiha.

“I think you should NOT take the offer for this bribe. Yes, it’s a big amount and it’s human nature to fall for it. But I think principals (sic) come first,” said Amyna.

“At the very outset I wish to congratulate you for the promotion and the trust you have achieved in Gulmohar (her office). My life is very similar to yours. I am in my final year of graduation and am also working in a private firm. I, too, am planning to do MBA in international business from Delhi,” wrote Harsha. “As far as your dilemma is concerned.… Have you forgotten the ethics your father has taught you from childhood,” she exhorted.

The channel feels Jassi’s success is a combination of various factors.

“She fights for her rights and upholds her values. She is the underdog with whose personality the viewers empathise,” says Sunil Lulla of SET.

But media watchers feel that Jassi owes her success to a blank space in the market.

“There was a surfeit of saas-bahu serials,” says Anjali Monteiro, professor and head, unit for media and communications, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

“There was a whole generation of urban women who wouldn’t identify with the Balaji serials — women who don’t call themselves feminists, but would identify with Jassi’s anti-feminine features,” she says.

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