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Now, an American version of Jassi

Welcome to the world of America's 'Jassi' aka 'Betty', a lovable person who has a weird personal style.

india Updated: Sep 26, 2006 19:06 IST

The quintessential, universal apologue of the metamorphoses of an underdog into a soaring success phenomenon has been an inspiring mantra forever.

Regardless of country, sensibility and social mores, such turn-around tales have led to astounding success for Television producers and actors alike.

In India, no other tele-serial has enjoyed the onus of enormous across-the-board popularity in recent times, as the middle class slice of life portrayal, Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin.

This month's TV highlight here in the US includes the highly-touted debut of America's Jassi, Ugly Betty. Though Jassi has outlived its run triumphantly in India this year, America is only just beginning to get to know her counterpart, Betty, beginning this week.

Ugly Betty premieres on ABC, September 28 at 7 pm and stars America Ferrera, Eric Mabius, Alan Dale and Vanessa Williams. The show is directed by Sarah Pia Anderson while Salma Hayek dons the cap of executive producer for it.

In India, Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin was perhaps among the very few universally engaging tele-soaps that rang a bell with even the most typically disinterested and dissociated audience group. Whether one followed it closely, or just heard about it through someone, it remained a decisive cultural thrust in the world of popular media. Audiences of Indian origin in the UK, USA and Canada were not indifferent to its allure. They indulged in follow-ups on the web among means of catching up with Jassi, or even just getting to know her.

Of the intriguing package that the show's creators spawned with this soap, which included masterstrokes such as an easy to relate to background; the invincible middle class demeanour; the prototypical Indian value system; innate family dynamics, involving grandparents and childhood buddies; the lure of the corporate world for the educated; dewy-eyed fascination among the young with socially mobile social-standouts; to name a few, perhaps the most ingenious was keeping the identity of Jassi, the lead protagonist, a closely guarded secret.

Although Ferrera is comparatively well-known and now, highly publicized for her work in Ugly Betty, her relative hold over American audiences will face the litmus test beginning this week.

As we prepare ourselves to welcome this new rags-to-riches phenomenon, with her prominent gaucherie, unsavoury sense of personal style, clumsy friendliness and adorable simplicity, we are only but reminded of her Indian counterpart who remains incomparable by far among many other contemporary actresses due to the very same virtues and traits.

Both serials, based on the path-breaking Columbian original Yo Soy Betty La Fea tele-novella are a meagre departure from the original story of a quotidian girl's rise from accustomed ordinariness to well-earned distinction.

Yo Soy Betty La Fea translating to, 'I am Betty the Ugly', pivots on Betty Suarez and her warming journey through the world of fashion and its fixation with overt image perception. So did Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin and so will Ugly Betty.

America's Betty, reportedly will bear uncanny resemblance to her original and her Indian avatar in that she will see gradual and steady transformation in her odyssey towards accomplishment at all levels, but will be different also in that she's younger than the original Betty, works as an assistant not at a fashion house but with a fashion magazine, Mode and most significantly is a first-generation Latino, living and working in the Big Apple, the very nucleus of immigrant experience in the US.

This latter characteristic, written into the script to facilitate better reception with immigrant audiences including Indian Americans, seems geared to find favour with a reasonable mass, at least. Whether the frumpy, lovable immigrant's eventual transformation will be as endearing a crossover as it has been in other parts of the world, remains to be seen.

These are early days, but seeing that ABC, the network parenting Ugly Betty has slated its telecast to the competitive Thursday-night line-up, its popularity and initial response seems to be a sure-fire given.

Despite its undeniable charm, Jassi did at times veer toward flatulent assumption and predictable transmutation. Similarly the humour quotient in Ferrera's Betty runs the risk of becoming ludicrous and lacklustre intermittently.

Both however, seem destined to earn a place in TV history as hero's common folk can root for, laugh at, cry to and ultimately, live with.