For a show that references both blind items and suicides — grave topics that have taken over public discourse in recent weeks — it’s surprising how chipper Netflix’s Masaba Masaba really is. Its confident command over tone is one of its biggest strengths — it is neither too frivolous, nor is it overwhelmingly sombre. Woven into the fabric of the show, a semi-autobiographical account of fashion designer Masaba Gupta’s life, is real, relatable drama.
Masaba, in the fine tradition of television characters such as Seinfeld, Louie, and, most recently, Ramy, plays a version of herself. It is never quite clear when she’s performing and when she’s simply… being, but that’s just a testament to her effortless acting style and innate likability. As talented a designer as she is, her performance here is good enough to justify a switch in career. At the very least, she might want to consider making it a side-hustle.
Even though some scenes feel more lived-in than others — a funny moment in which Masaba comes across cheap knockoffs of her own designs is too random to not have actually happened — at no point does the story seem unbelievable, or the people as plastic as some of Masaba’s mannequins.
Director Sonam Nair is consistently able to capture the honesty in even the most outlandish of scenes. None is more mortifying than Masaba’s ill-fated fashion show, a culmination of a season’s worth of effort. On the big day, not only must our heroine deal with nauseous models and snooty fashion bloggers, she must also placate the ego of her showstopper, played by Malavika Mohanan.
Malavika appears in one of the several ‘celebrity cameos’ in Masaba Masaba, and I was pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastic most of these actors were about having a laugh at their own expense. It reminded me of Avtar Gill’s hilariously villainous performance in the recent film Kaamyaab. Everyone is refreshingly unpretentious — from Kiara Advani, who walks into Masaba’s showroom demanding a comfortable outfit for a cleaning drive she’s signed up for (but is clearly regretting it), to Farah Khan, whose transformation into an obnoxious Bollywood big-shot is more impressive than many of the performances that she herself has directed in her movies.
Scene-stealers all. But none quite as magnificent as the show’s trump card — Masaba’s illustrious mother, Neena Gupta. The relationship between the two is one that I, despite being neither a mother nor a daughter, could connect to instantly. Here are two fiercely independent women, who’ve succeeded in spite of the steady stream of challenges that life has thrown at them, most of which they take in their stride. As Pooja Bedi’s otherwise inept therapist tells Masaba in a rare moment of insight, she has an incredible survival instinct. I’m willing to bet that she got it from her momma.
The show is as much about Masaba’s emancipation — she’s coming out of a failed marriage — as it is about Neena’s efforts to re-establish herself as an actor, in an industry that has a history of treating its senior stars with little respect. Her uplifting arc ends in such a pleasing manner that you almost want to reach out through the screen and say, ‘Badhaai Ho’.
All this might seem somewhat high-society, but the themes that the show tackles are universal. Yes, Masaba is able to host a show aboard an exclusive yacht, and yes, she hobnobs with the rich and the famous on a nightly basis, but underneath the glamorous exterior, she’s a regular person, just as desperate for love as the rest of us, and just as prone to making mistakes.
In India, and perhaps all over the world, the tendency is for the middle class to observe people of privilege and question their right to feel bad about themselves. But what many don’t realise is that anxiety doesn’t check your passport. Depression doesn’t care if you’re from Bandra or Borivali. It doesn’t matter to insecurity if you pray in a temple or a mosque. People are people are people. And that’s what this show is about.
The devil might wear Prada, but Netflix India, after a recent unfortunate brush with khaki, should be happy to have gotten its hands on some Masaba Masaba.
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