It’s a vibrant rage all over the internet. Netflix’s latest webseries, ‘Masaba Masaba’, which dropped on August 28, with a quick six-episode stint, each about thirty minutes; promises an escape we’re probably all craving for in these uncertain times.
Starring famous designer Masaba Gupta, and her mother, actress Neena Gupta, the show is a fictionalised version of their lives, with a few incidents lifted from reality sprinkled here and there. Written and directed by Sonam Nair (other writers: Nandini Gupta, Anupama Ramachandran), and produced by Ashvini Yardi’s ‘Viniyard Films’, the series places itself to be a flagbearer for the ‘women in filmmaking’ cause.
Also read: Review: Masaba Masaba — Anything But A ‘Hot Mess’
So, what went wrong?
When a blind item in a newspaper hints at Masaba’s separation from her husband, her seemingly perfect image in the fashion Industry and on social media takes a hit. Masaba’s honour as the ‘Millennial Female Fashion Icon of the Year’ is juxtaposed with her crumbling personal life, indicative of the hot mess ready to unfold. Forced to announce her separation on Instagram, Masaba’s string of messes pile on top of each other: Problems with her latest collection due to lack of creative ideas, money issues, accommodation worries, men, sex, and dealing with her mother and best friend.
Meanwhile, soon to be sixty-years-old, actress Neena Gupta is proactively exploring new avenues in life, including – but not limited to – bagging a lead role in a movie. After being ignored multiple times, not because of her age (no, we don’t discuss serious topics on this show), her desperate attempt on Instagram towards achieving the goal, bursts open for her a possibility of rewriting the existing canon for senior women in the film industry.
On the surface, the premise of Masaba Masaba presents two strong leads, but the show’s scattered insides make for an unsettling trip for viewers. Credit where it’s due – Neena is the only saving grace in the show. She lives the feminist cause through proactive decision-making, without playing the age-card or even the woman-card. On the other hand, Masaba is presented as a feminist stereotype of ‘screaming into a microphone about being an independent woman’, and significant problems in her life have one saviour in common: Men. Why?
Enter, Knight In Shining Armour
In Masaba Masaba, one of Masaba’s biggest problems is the creative block she’s facing. She does not turn to any friend; colleague in her team; or to the new intern, who is perfectly positioned as a muse. Instead, she’s whisked off by a guy, who “tells” her to let go and have fun, and explains the meaning of art and creativity. For a fashion designer, who worked hard for ten years in the industry, the makers thought it okay for Masaba to be mansplained the meaning of art at 1 in the morning, after she spends one and a half lakh rupees on a phony art piece, created by one of her Bollywood friends. She listens and smiles, pines over the guy, has a sexy banter with him, and they slide into each other’s DMs.
When Masaba faces accommodation problems, her assistant, Gehna, played by Nayan Shukla, takes her on a house-hunting journey; a beautiful moment of women supporting each other. But of course, rich or poor, it’s a hassle for women to find a place for themselves. Masaba is told things like “female”, “single (not divorcee, surprisingly)”, “celebrity” – it’s difficult to give a flat to “such people”.
Masaba launches into a rant speech, calling out the bullshit about the whole thing, and in swoops the knight-in-shining armour; her socially-awkward investor boss, Dhairya, played by Neil Bhoopalam. He happens to have a friend who’s leasing a place. And just like that, another problem goes away. But it doesn’t end here. Money troubles become a non-issue, too because, ‘aap toh Mr Dhairya ke friend hai na.’ Once again, Masaba pines for this man and wonders if he has ‘big dick energy’.
Also read: Has Elitism Won The Race In Indian Entertainment?
Problematic Depiction Of Therapy
The biggest problem of Masaba Masaba is its depiction of mental health issues. Pooja Bedi plays the inattentive therapist with such ease that it is hard not to feel disturbed by the therapist-client relationship. If that was the intention of the makers, they executed it well.
Constantly interrupting and undermining Masaba, bringing her own problems to every session – Masaba Masaba does nothing good in encouraging people with mental health issues to seek professional help. On the contrary, it may make someone hesitant to reach out for the fear of an inattentive therapist putting the client in an unsafe space.
In our country where it is difficult to find a good therapist in your budget, the show depicts Masaba repeatedly returning to these sessions. It perpetuates the notion that seeking professional support for mental health issues is some rich people indulgence, without any actual meaning.
Why is a bad therapist used as a humour quotient?
When Masaba barges in on another client’s session after her fiasco of a fashion show, she is “told” by the therapist to “take a holiday”, because ‘ye fame and success tumhare bas ki baat nahi. Tumhe sirf problems se bhagna aata hai. Face karna nahi aata.’ (This fame and success is not your cup of tea. You only know how to run away from your problems and not face them.)
Thank you, Ms Therapist, for the judgement. What does Masaba do? For someone plagued by insecurities and finding the inability to deal with judgements from everyone around her, this is a eureka moment for our lead. And, the therapist uses the slang, “breakthrough”, and everyone’s happy.
Is it too much to ask that they show the proper way therapy works? On the one hand, we get an eccentric depiction in ‘Love You Zindagi’ with an “unconventional” session approach; on the other, we get a “comedic relief”. With mental health issues on the rise owing to the lockdown and the pandemic, we need content that shows this topic in a light encouraging people to opt for it. This can only happen when it’s shown with honesty and not used as a means of appearing progressive.
There is a time in everyone’s life when nothing is in their control. Masaba’s life is a mess, we get it. Her default expression in the show is to be exasperated and tired, but not depressed (that is too serious). Masaba Masaba‘s intentions seem so scattered – what values do we uphold it to? If we take the depiction of Masaba’s chaos as part of a place of mental health issues, then the depiction of therapist-client relationship should not have been a comedic relief.
Masaba Masaba is fancy, colourful, and bright – glossing over every serious issue in the lives of its two strong female leads with a slap of progressive, liberal, the grace of social media and of course, male saviours. Take from it what you will; it’s a hotchpotch from too many cooks behind beautiful sets and gorgeous women, who act splendidly with whatever little material they had.
Featured Image Source: Cinestaan
This is an apt review of ‘Masaba Masaba’ I have read so far. Good job!
Good article. Very well written. The point about mental health is totally valid. The thing about Indian OTT is that it’s flooded with so many crime related series that anything different comes across as a breath of fresh air for a lot of people and I feel it’s okay.
So true, Neena Gupta is the only saving grace in this show. Well-written, Asra.
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