There is plenty of air kissing in the Netflix series that stars the actor Neena Gupta and her fashion designer daughter Masaba Gupta. Masaba Masaba claims to fill the gap between pouted lips and proffered cheeks. The show purports to be a work of docufiction in which we will glean insights into the mother-daughter pair’s relationship via fictionalised versions of their experiences. Along the way, we are told, we will be served up commentary on the pressures imposed by constant public scrutiny and the shallow ways of Mumbai showbiz.
Masaba Masaba is actually a coming-of-age story welded together with a romcom and steered by a nifty casting gimmick. The Guptas play characters, rather than themselves. There is enough here to reel in both fans of Neena Gupta who are keen on seeing her in a new set-up and admirers of Masaba Gupta who are curious about whether the fashion icon can act too.
The series scores on both counts. Neena Gupta has immense fun playing somebody a lot like her – a woman who is headstrong, outspoken and a bit professionally insecure but also wiser in matters of the heart.
Masaba Gupta is the real surprise package – she is a natural before the camera and deftly handles the scripting contrivances and cooked-up situations with the right amount of eye-rolling and hand-wringing. If the single aim of Masaba Masaba was to launch her as an actor, it has been achieved.
Created by Ashvini Yardi and directed by Sonam Nair, the first season has six episodes. The screenplay, by Nair, Nandini Gupta and Anupama Ramachandran, is marked by light humour and mild consternation over the travails of the poor little rich celebrity. A fictionalised version of Masaba Gupta’s divorce from film producer Madhu Mantena kicks off the narrative. It’s the end of the road for Masaba Gupta and musician Vinay (Satyadeep Mishra). Her life is going to become one big “hot mess” – also the name of a future couture collection.
An ex is hovering on the sidelines. There is also the hunky artist Jogi (Sharan Sahu). The fashion label is bleeding money. Principal investor Dhairya (Neil Bhoopalam) pretends to be disgusted by the very idea of Masaba Gupta, but having watched Bridget Jones’s Diary, we have a fair idea where this will lead.
As Masaba Gupta flails about and fails in love, friendship and business, her mother often has sound advice. Messiness is good or else life will be dry, Neena Gupta observes. Also among the dispensers of life lessons is Masaba Gupta’s bar-owning friend Gia (Rytasha Rathore). Gupta distills her learnings into Instagram posts, and the social networking app becomes another character in a series self-consciously targetted at millennials.
The half-hearted attempt to locate the main characters in their real-life contexts includes cameos by director Farah Khan, singer Shibani Dandekar and actors Kiara Advani, Mithila Palkar and Gajraj Rao. Pooja Bedi, not playing herself, is Masaba Gupta’s therapist who checks up on her wayward husband while chattering away about chakras and spirals.
The fictionalised bits are shallow fun but hardly new or revelatory. The references to the actual experiences of two generations of showbiz personalities are fleeting. Neena Gupta, who appeared in several arthouse films and television serials in the 1980s and 1990s, proved her independence and strength when she had Masaba Gupta with cricketing legend Viv Richards in 1989. In 2018, this single mother resurrected her acting career by putting out an appeal for work on Instagram. The offers flowed in, including the hugely popular Badhaai Ho (2018).
We learn next to nothing about Masaba Gupta’s childhood, despite the presence of a younger version of herself (played by Amairah Awatanye). Also presumably reserved for the second season will be the back story of the breakdown of the marriage.
It’s not like we really want to or need to know why the marriage didn’t work. Masaba Masaba never strays in the direction of the exploitative reality show, and there is no mistaking it for an Indian Meet The Kardashians. But we might have been interested in the challenges faced by Masaba Gupta as a half-Black child in Mumbai – experiences that shed light on her as well as her remarkably unorthodox mother. Surely, this was the main reason for bringing the family together and getting them to act under their own names?
For the genuinely curious, there simply isn’t enough raw honesty or rough edges in the first season. Every scene is unmistakably scripted, from the obstacles placed in Masaba Gupta’s path to the conversational dialogue. Of the two Masabas in the title, the one who emerges stronger is the imagined one – a millennial finally learning to face up to her problems. The fact that she is a well-known fashion designer and second-generation celebrity turns out to be a coincidence.