As a teenager, Masaba Gupta was discouraged by her mother, actor Neena Gupta, from following in her career path. At 31, Masaba Gupta is making her acting debut in a scripted mockumentary series that mixes together real-life events from the fashion designer’s life and fictional situations.
Masaba Masabai, directed by Sonam Nair, will be streamed on Netflix on August 28. What bits were invented and what actually took place? Excerpts from an interview with the mother-daughter pair.
How much of ‘Masaba Masaba’ is real and how much is fiction?
Masaba Gupta: A biopic would have been a bit too ambitious as this age, so a mockumentary. Also, the idea was to do a show that was was almost running in parallel with my life. It picks up from the middle of my life – around two years back. It’s a mix of fiction and reality with more than 60 per cent being fiction and rest reality which fits seamlessly. I leave it to the audience to see whether they connect more to the fact or fiction.
Neena Gupta: I don’t think you need to know what is fact and what is fiction. You just need to enjoy the series. For example, the scene in the trailer where he is selling the cloth [a shop-keeper hawking a rip-off] design, that has really happened to Masaba. But does it matter whether it is fact or fiction? It’s just funny.
Are the characters real people or fictional?
Masaba Gupta: Every character is borrowed from at least five people I know. So there will always be different layers mixed with different mannerisms mixed with people I know. It was important to change names because people might get offended if they see their lives playing out on screen.
How much will the show reveal about your formative years?
Masaba Gupta: It was not a conscious decision to leave out the growing up years. Season one is current in order to create that instant connection. There is a mini Masaba in the show, so I am sure we will revisit my childhood and even my reactions to events as a child.
Is your father, Viv Richards, likely to feature?
Masaba Gupta: I am not sure. We’ll see. If at some point the story requires it, and if there is a season two, then maybe. We will discover later.
What was it like working together?
Neena Gupta: Once I went in front of the camera, I didn’t think I was playing my real daughter’s mother. Because when you hear camera, lights, action, it becomes a job.
Otherwise, it was fun. For example, even though we had different vanity vans she would say, bring this food for lunch today, and we would eat together. Then I taught her how to use a vanity van like suggesting she take her own sheet and pillow, how to stay awake during a night shoot etc.
Masaba, why did you decide to act now?
Masaba Gupta: I didn’t decide to act as such, but the idea for the series came to me about two years ago and I thought it would be an interesting story to tell. I was not seeking a parallel career in acting, but creatively I enjoy a challenge. I like doing things besides design. I decided not to limit myself to being a designer who makes six kurtas and five leggings. I want to do as much as possible and see if I can pull it off. So I think it decided itself for me and I really enjoyed the process.
You have done the gamut from tennis to dance to fashion design to acting.
Masaba Gupta: I settle into things very easily and once the challenge is gone, I don’t enjoy them anymore. I also like to do everything that comes my way and if my gut says this is a good thing to do, I go for it. I am somebody who is very fluid.
So for instance when my mom told me at age 14/15, don’t become an actor – for very valid reasons – I went along with that. I was not a stubborn child nor am I someone who needed to prove something for the sake of it. I like to go with the flow. If something meaningful comes along, I will take it up. If someone gives me good reasons and advice on why I shouldn’t do something, then I won’t do it.
At 31, I want to do things that make me happy. I think as women we spend too much of our time trying to please other people. It’s time to please oneself.
Neena, you discouraged Masaba from an acting career. What are your thoughts about it now?
Neena Gupta: After I saw the series, I apologised to her for stopping her. I had told then, your looks are not of a typical Hindi film heroine. Your face and body is not very Indian, so you might not get very big roles. She could go abroad and she might find roles there, but even then she would likely be typecast. I also discouraged her because she was very good in studies, singing and dancing.
But honestly, what is destined for you, you cannot stop. Suddenly Ashvini Yardi [creator-producer] came up with this concept, suddenly she acted, suddenly I realised she was good. This is how life is. You cannot plan it so exactly because you never know what lies ahead.
Coming to the rebooted Neena Gupta: what role did Masaba play in this new phase?
Neena Gupta: She played a very important part. She was also going through problems in her business and personal life at that time so I did say that if she needs me – physically or emotionally – I would let the work go because the shoots were out of Bombay. But she encouraged me a lot when my career took off. If I had got even the slightest hint that she needed me, I would have dropped everything because my priority in life is and has always has been Masaba. I appeal to all children to encourage their mothers to work.
Are more parts being written for experienced female actors now?
Neena Gupta: I still feel it is like a dream. How can suddenly everything change for me after Badhaai Ho? I still thank [director] Amit Sharma for giving me a new life.
Yes, parts are coming to me but the difference is that now I am a little choosy. I am a beggar, but I can be choosy also. So now I only take what excites me. I am very happy that I am part of the industry at a time when so much change is happening and so many good roles are being written for women my age. I am enjoying this phase, but the only worry is time. I want to do it fast and I am very upset that Covid-19 has happened because I don’t have many years to live and I feel one year got wasted. We need to hurry up because as long as the body is able to work, one wants to work.
What was it like working in television in the 1980s and 1990s?
Neena Gupta: I am very lucky to have done TV during its golden phase, especially when serials were weekly. In a month we would do four to five series and bank episodes. Writers would come home, have food, chat, and share ideas. We only worked from 9am to 6pm but during those hours we did lots of work.
Later I worked in daily soaps too and that was crazy. It was just a moneymaking thing without being enjoyable. Everybody was tired, not sleeping well and sick. I am very lucky to have done TV at a very good time, which helped me make myself.
Masaba, are you open to other acting offers?
Masaba Gupta: My doors are open; I hope others’ doors are too. I think acting is so full of uncertainty because you might think you have done a good job, but people may not see how they can cast you in something else.
I don’t want to be attached to the end result. I definitely can’t wait to do more but I don’t want to be bogged down by the pressure of waiting for the calls and offers. I have a very happy job in fashion, with my own label. I thoroughly enjoy acting and if I get to do that more I will be grateful and if I don’t get to do more of that, I will still be grateful for fashion.