Masaba Masaba review: A Netflix Original too #hot to be messy
Masaba Masaba leaves out everything that is not #hot or stale for the milennials. It assumes the demographic can only be invested in the surface, so never dives deep enough into human psyche, where the real mess thrives.
Language: Hindi with bits of English
Despite the name appearing twice in the title, Masaba Masaba is not a vanity project by ace celebrity fashion designer Masaba Gupta. It could have very well been since it is not a biopic, which is always subject to more scrutiny and several litmus tests of authenticity. Masaba Masaba takes the hybrid route, marrying facts with fiction, and in turn, does not do full justice to either.
The outlines are sketched by factual familiarity but whatever operates within is purported to be fiction. The free hand that director Sonam Nair and her co-writers Punya Arora, Nandini Gupta, and Anupama Ramchandran, along with creator Ashwini Yardi, have here is frustrating since one cannot filter the facts from the fiction. This conflict could have been milked more fruitfully had the narrative been steeped in ingenuity, and not reduced to mere derivation.
The first episode of the six-part series places us in the house of Masaba (yes, the home, not the brand), where a blind item puts her wobbly marriage in front of prying eyes of the town. Her suppressed reaction to the 'gossip' and the cold exchange with husband Vinit suggest there is no smoke without fire. When her husband insists on returning to his new place after an award function, Masaba insists he keeps the separation news under wraps before he convinces her to break the news via Instagram.
What comes out is quite a lucid statement that seems to stem from a place of crystal clarity. But the ensuing episodes prove otherwise. If at all, Masaba's life goes into a spiral as her inability to come to terms with the personal setback permeates her professional life. An unyielding creative void, gnawing investors, and dwindling finances add insult to injury as Masaba simultaneously struggles for a physical space of her own, heated arguments with her support system, i.e., actress-mother Neena Gupta (played by herself) and BFF Gia (Rytasha Rathore), and the subsequent loneliness.
A film buff, particularly an entertainment journalist like this writer, would usually be well-versed with the larger issues at play in Masaba and Neena's lives. Single parenthood, lack of communication with her daughter, and being constantly pushed out of the radar of casting directors and filmmakers, are issues Neena Gupta has often addressed on public record.
Similarly, Masaba's demons are also well-documented. It takes six episodes, spread over months, for Masaba to resolve that divorce chapter of her life in the show. But does that imply it took as long for her to do so in real life as well? Facts overlap with fiction rather conveniently here, and thus rob us of any film trivia we might be scraping for.
But Masaba Masaba is not cut out for film buffs in that sense. It does not unfurl as a spot-the-filmy-reference game like in the case of say, Zoya Akhtar's witty insider drama Luck By Chance (2009) or Farah Khan's potshot-dishing factory Om Shanti Om (2007). The familiarity is intended to only place the viewer in the world that they believe they are up to speed with, thanks to social media. The millennials are clearly the target group here, with the popped-up colour palette (cinematography by Aditya Kapur), peppy playlist (music by Somesh Saha), peppering of woke hashtags over the dialogues, and jibes at older characters who 'just do not get it.'
But the intelligence of the millennial has been undermined here. Yes, their memory may be short-lived enough for them to not remember most of the commonly known facts passed off as 'things you didn't know,' but access, especially for them, is a tap away. Yes, millennials may be surface skimmers when on Instagram Explore, but they may not settle for anything less meaty than their last binge-watch. Though the show starts off on an exciting note, the energy dips and the plot wavers in the third and fourth episodes (editing by Shruti Bora), where most of the shallow fun on display seems like deleted footage from Four More Shots Please!.
One device that resonates is the role of Instagram in Masaba's life. It acts as her Daily Diary, barring the fact that it is accessible by her million followers. As an outsider, one readily assumes that exhibition on social media is a facade constructed by the celebrity in order to make life look a lot cooler. But it could also be a self-defense mechanism to make sense of life, at least in the place where one controls the narrative. Or as in the case of Masaba, it could be honest musings one seldom utters to loved ones or even to oneself.
Instagram also serves as a bridge to the communication gap between Masaba and Neena. The mother gets to know of her daughter's milestone life events through her Instagram, including the news of her separation. The scenes featuring the two fierce women are few and far between, though are consistently affecting. The narrative offers us an interestingly woven peak behind the closed doors of their house during key moments of their recent life, such as them not being on talking terms when Neena pushed out the now-famous social media post asking for work. And how Neena auditioning for her second innings breakthrough Badhaai Ho (titled Khushkhabri in the show) with a baby bump reminds her of when she carried Masaba without any support 30 years ago.
In fact, the show tries to be as much about Neena as it is about her daughter. The Masaba Mothership is a tour de force in every episode, and goes from strength to strength with renewed vigour even at 60. But her frailties and insecurities are given only a fraction of the attention attributed to Masaba. Though more fun, her parallel track feels forced after a point as it exists merely to inform Masaba's redemption towards the end.
Among other characters, there is Dhairya, Neil Bhoopalam's effective turn as the corporate counterpart to every creative endeavour, which lends urgency to the otherwise leisurely nature of an art like fashion designing ("Creativity koi nal hai kya jo khol du?"). Rytasha Rathore plays Gia, who is celebrity pastry chef-cum-entrepreneur Pooja Dhingra and Masaba's other friends all rolled into one. She excels at poking fun, lending a shoulder, and slapping her friend out of self-imposed misery. Pooja Bedi as Masaba's therapist is a brilliantly written short role but could have struck the right note with more seasoned comic timing. A special mention to Amariah Awantaye as the mini Masaba who pops up often to fill in for her grown-up version. It is a narrative tool lost on me but I do not mind it given how #adorbs the little girl is.
And then there are the celebrity cameos as themselves. Kiara Advani choosing a designer dress for a Swachh Bharat Abhiyan gig. Malavika Mohanan as the paranoid diva who cannot get her act together as the showstopper at Masaba's make-or-break show because of a breakup. Shibani Dandekar turns an artist, and makes a fortune out of an iron that has lost its steam. And Farah Khan is a complete hoot while fantasising herself in the next 'Sheila Ki Jawani.'
All these digs at the amusing banality of the film industry echo the larger idea behind Masaba Masaba: to celebrate the Hot Mess that one's life often becomes. It is certainly an idea worth endorsing, but could have been conveyed with a plot less dawdling and a script less slim. The narrative leaves out everything that is not #hot — not familiar with the milennials. It assumes the demographic can only be invested in the surface, so never dives deep enough into human psyche, where the real mess thrives.
What stays constant and at the focal point is Masaba's commendable debut as an actor, even though she plays a fictionalised version of herself.
Masaba Masaba is streaming on Netflix.
Masaba Gupta and Shabana Azmi were trolled for trivial issues on social media and we can't help point out the obvious — trolling is MTV Splitsvilla level of cool.
Masaba had supported the Supreme Court order of banning firecrackers in Delhi during Diwali this year.
The real-life mother-daughter duo Neena Gupta and Masaba Gupta play versions of themselves in Masaba Masaba