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The Many Faces of Sriti Jha

by B. R. GOWANI

One characteristic of a good actor is the ability to perform the character naturally with little evidence to the individual’s own personality.

Sriti Jha is one such artist. With efficacious use of her eyes and apposite facial expressions, she portrays her role in such an impelling manner that it lends the role a Manisha Koirala-like quality.

Added to that is her outstanding voice. She is gifted with a great voice that she manipulates effectively to convey emotions so that even if someone was just listening to her dialogs, without watching her on the screen, the agony, ecstasy, fear, helplessness was ample evident to depict what her character was going through. To illustrate this point: In a scene from her TV serial, Dil Se Di DuA… SaubhAgyavati Bhava? (19:48-21:27), when she faces her abusive husband from whom she had escaped, she makes an effort to put a brave face while trying to suppress her fear. The listener can sense the fright-laden effort. Elsewhere, in her dialogs, one can be reminded of either Meena Kumari like voice characteristic, pain (18:41-21:06) and (1:42-5:11), or reminisce Mohd Ali dialogs (4:40-7:06) of power (3:40-5:24) (00:15).

(Life OK, the channel that shows this serial, used to post the entire program on the internet; but as the program gained popularity, they reduced it to five minutes snippets and now they stopped airing completely on the internet, you can only watch on TV.)

Jyoti

The first time I saw Sriti Jha was in the TV serial Jyoti where she was an applicant with others who were seated on benches waiting for the job interview. Sriti stood out with her emotions of anxiety and fear on her face showing clearly that she lacked confidence. Expressions of her face conveyed genuineness. Usually, in TV dramas or films, one does not see characters waiting for job interview giving such impressive performance. Two particular clips from the same serial were very touching: where doctors and psychiatrists were interrogating her to diagnose her illness by exploring incidents and events from her past as to the cause of the illness in order to determine the treatment. Her character’s challenging role was that of a person suffering from a split personality disorder. Her performance was stunning.

Dil Se Di Dua… SaubhAgyavati Bhava?

The current TV serial she is working in is Dil Se Di DuA… SaubhAgyavati Bhava?. The meaning: “Blessings from the heart… Be you always fortunate in this life?.” This is the customary blessing family and friends wish the bride at the time of her leaving her parent’s home. The other phrase commonly used is “SadA suhAgan raho” or “Be always in a state of wedded bliss.” Alternatively, in terms of simple English: Die before your husband’s death, because only then you can stay as a wife and not a widow–which was (and to some extent still is) considered a curse for a woman.

The depiction of women in South Asian films, until not very long ago, had been that of Sati Savitri, a pure and devoted wife. It was Yash Chopra‘s very powerful film Dharmputra(1961), on communalism, a first commercial film, which had a strong female character pointing out that not everything in religious scriptures was good. No suit followed. Then there was the 1965 film Guide, which also had a bold female character of Rosie (a great performance by Waheeda Rehman) who left her husband to live with another man. It took the Indian cinema some time before Rosie-like characters started reappearing.

Coming back to Saubhagyawati Bhava?, it is a story of a middle class girl Jhanvi, later Sia (played by Sriti Jha, the heroine) who gets married to a rich businessperson, Viraj Dobriyal (played by Karanvir Bohra, the anti-hero). In front of others, he seems to be a very caring and decent person but whose true nature is the opposite and one that Jhanvi knows firsthand. He is very cruel, extremely possessive, and dangerously violent. He also has an obsessive–compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). As a result, she suffers immensely, and so does her family, who is also not spared his excesses. She escapes from the marriage with the help and encouragement of her mother-in-law, who dies in the process. In a new town, she changes her name to Sia and with the help of Raghavendra Singh or Raghav (played by Harshad Chopra, the hero) she gradually gains back her confidence. Raghav’s mother, invites Sia to move in with them for saving the life of Raghav’s nephew. Viraj reappears in her life, after intentionally being hit by the car of Raghav’s sister, and pretending to have lost his memory. He ends up in the same house. Sia is confused whether Viraj has really lost his memory or whether he is pretending. After many episodes, she comes to know the reality. Mentally, Sia is continuously tortured and even gets hurt physically twice by Viraj in this new place.

Plus points

This drama is unlike other serials as women are not burdened with heavy jewelry, only minimal religious rituals are shown, it’s not a mother-in-law/daughter-in-law clash, women are not shown hatching conspiracies, no exaggerated and emotionally distorted faces happen on some news being broken or incident happening, and there is much less melodrama.

Minus points

Like other TV dramas, normal scenes of people working are rare, doors are left mostly open, anyone can hear anybody talking, even important events are not discussed among family members (such as Raghav’s mother, when she comes to know from Sia that she had left her abusive husband), preposterous situations, and one major defect as given below.

Revenge

The major flaw of this serial is the tiresome continuous angle ongoing for a long time. The writers could have developed Jhanvi’s character strength once she was out of Viraj’s clutches. This could have made Jhanvi/Sia a strong person busy planning and preparing for a new life. Then when Viraj enters her life again, they should have put Sia in a total revenge mode. This would have empowered women if presented as being practical and believable. Instead, what they did was to continue the same sadistic approach they have adopted since the first episode.

Men have always found ways, democratic, religious, or outright cruel to control and exploit women throughout history. South Asian men are no different. Women are burned to death indowry-related cases, they are paraded naked to exact revenge, they are gang-raped, they are killed or disfigured for disgracing family “honor”, they’re forced to abort if the fetus is female, they are beatenthey are victimized by throwing acid at them, and so on. (The women world over, who are victims of violence have a long way to go before they can achieve total equality.) This serial does nothing for empowering the South Asian women trying hard to fight against abuse and violence and gain respect and equality. In this situation, such a drama watched by millions of people, including those very men who may be indulging in such practices, does not bode well for women’s rights. It is beyond reasonable comprehension as to why the writers want Sia to be demoiselle en détresse living under fear. An opportunity of mass potential has been completely missed so far.

In the beginning, the approach was somewhat believable, because Sia was in an isolated place and was worried for her family’s safety. Besides, Viraj had control over Sia through surveillance cameras and workers, most of the time.

However, once Jhanvi became Sia and was in a free environment, then Viraj’s terror antics lost their believability. Now it is obvious that they are forced on viewers and its makers are busy cashing on Viraj’s roguery. In addition, there are times when during encounters Viraj’s dialogues are sharp whereas the Sia and Raghav dialogues fail to meet that eloquence. Also, the viewers do not usually think about the directors or writers when they are watching the TV serials or films because they associate dialogues and situations (absurd or logical) with the actors and actresses. So, ultimately the judgment for good or bad script of events unfolding is attributed to the artists.

The anti-hero seems to be getting a lot of attention although, it is supposed to be primarily Jhanvi ki Kahani (Jhanvi’s Story), the other name for this serial.

The commercial reason for prolonging the series is understandable and the pressure the writers are facing cannot be denied. Then there is the TRP rating system. So what do the producers do? They take a leap of seven or so years in the episodes. In one of the serials, Main Lakshmi Tere Aagaan Ki), they made the wife-heroine die, and then seven years later, the husband-hero is face to face with his dead-wife look-alike.

SaubhAgyavati Bhava? is taking a seven-year leap too. Ironically, the anti-hero, Karanvir Bohra, who has a meaty role, and has become famous due to it, has announced that he will be leaving the show because “leaps are simply escape routes for adding new twists to shows.” It is doubtful, the hero Harshad Chopra will quit the series. Much before the leap announcement, in one of the interviews, Chopra said that he needed to work to fulfill certain commitments. Sriti Jha is the central character so she will probably have her role continue.

It is not too late yet. The writers should turn the tables by turning Sia’s character into a cruel one, and should do it with the same stylistic flair with which they developed Viraj’s character. Now his character should be on the receiving end. Raghav’s character, which is with Sia, should be stopped from being rash and should be made to think more and fight less. Like this, they could retain Karanvir Bohra. Both leading male characters are good actors. Moreover, it is doubtful that the change would have any adverse effect on program’s rating or popularity. Sia’s strong character would probably be meaty enough that she does not mind aging the seven years. (An actress who likes Guru Dutt, and who has also expressed her desire to play Ayesha Takia‘s role in Dor and wants to work with Vishal Bhardwaj, wouldn’t mind taking on new challenges.)

Finally, a strong Sia will be a refreshing direction for the program, and prove to be a role model for women watching in Nepal, Pakistan, India, and elsewhere. The viewers have seen the timid, frightful, and vulnerable Sriti Jha; now I hope the writers give them a chance to see the vicious, bold, and terrible side (against Viraj) of this talented actress while maintaining her character’s tender nature.

B. R. Gowani can be reached at brgowani@hotmail.com

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B. R. Gowani can be reached at brgowani@hotmail.com

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