A dose of reality

Tele review

A dose of reality

Television is not a land of aesthetic opportunity. There were those golden yester years of Doordarshan with Hum Log, Buniyaad and Khandaan. It’s not quite the same any longer. Economic winds of change, socialist or capitalist, are culturally stifling. Then came a television channel with a difference.

Zindagi was launched by ZEE Network as a channel with soap operas from Pakistan. It was a whiff of fresh air for the content-hungry audience. These were stories of real people confronting real situations. Zindagi made a foray into Indian content and producer-director Ajai Sinha’s Aadhe Adhoore is one of the first shows of Indian origin on the channel.

If my memory serves me right, there has never before been a character like the series lead, Jassi, played with astute maturity by Sonali Nikam, in Hindi television. She is married into a middle class Punjabi family in the small town of Kapurthala, her husband, for years has been working in Dubai leaving Jassi behind with his mother and younger brother. This milieu unharnessed Jassi’s basic sexual desire and need. She enters into a sexual alliance with her brother-in-law. The series explores this alliance and its emotional and psychological implications.

It is indeed refreshing and path-breaking to see a character on television for whom sex is equal to eating or bathing. However, Jassi is not just another sexual being. She is also the matriarch despite the presence of her mother-in-law. She wields hitherto unseen control over her marital home with love, care and a strong mind. This makes her a woman of substance. She may not be a working woman, but her mind and heart are strong and she displays great understanding of social and familial dynamics.

Yet, Jassi is human. She questions how a woman can be devoid of sexual needs and why they are only considered a man’s need? And we have no answer, for women are conditioned to be sexually secretive. They tend to live in denial whereas Jassi accepts and recognises her sexual needs in the absence of her husband and seeks fulfillment.

The post-modern complexity of the character goes beyond this expression of demand. Jassi is an immensely-layered character operating from multiple points of view, thus questioning all “grand narratives”. As a woman, Jassi has desire, as a wife she is loving, as a daughter-in-law she is respectful and responsible, as a sister she has no qualms, as a lover Jassi is exhilarating, and as a cast away she is manipulative and hurting. Jassi secretly expresses and fulfills her desires but never comes out in the open, she doesn’t want to create family and social ruckus, and most importantly, she yet loves her husband and doesn’t wish to leave him.

Jassi is living a lie without moral turpitude. She will not allow her unfulfilled needs to usurp familial bliss. The two co-exist for her and she navigates between polarities unscathed. She doesn’t get emotional when pregnant from her brother-in-law and pragmatically opts for abortion. Jassi is devoid of sentimentality. Her existence is a construct of these contradictions and paradoxes, hence brilliantly contemporary. Jassi blatantly questions the notion of truth yet engages the viewer with empathy.

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