Pop Culture

Masaba Masaba: A Messy Story of a Messy, Famous Mother-Daughter Duo

. 6 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
Masaba Masaba: A Messy Story of a Messy, Famous Mother-Daughter Duo

Masaba Masaba is a 6-episode series on Netflix that delves into the messiness of the private life of a millennial celebrity, and her famous mother’s fight for relevance. 

Masaba Masaba stars the real-life famous mother-daughter duo – Neena Gupta (a national award-winning actress), and Masaba Gupta (a well-known fashion designer), who play versions of themselves in this series directed by Sonam Nair. 

The general Bollywood-loving public – the public that watches Koffee With Karan ironically (but religiously); the public that fawns over celebrities on Instagram; the public that doesn’t turn away from a good celebrity feud – has a vague idea of what it must be like to be a famous personality. With celebrities living such exposed lives on social media, it can be easy to create a persona that the public would eat up; but how do they deal with personal tragedies, losses, and failures while under such scrutiny?

The film depicts how patriarchy affects women of different ages differently

Masaba’s life takes a difficult turn when a small byte of gossip printed in a newspaper hints at her separation from her husband of two years. At the same time, she’s hounded by an investor in her company, Dhairya Rana, to present ideas for her new collection that’s due soon. As Masaba struggles to deal with this stressful piece of news in her social circuit while juggling an investor and a major creative block, Neena has a problem of her own – despite having been a national award winner and a household name, she’s struggling to get a good role in a film at the age of 60. 

The series shows, very honestly, how patriarchy bestows women with completely different yet equally valid struggles. While one woman’s accomplishments have been overshadowed by rumours of her divorce, another woman is struggling to find work in an industry that considers her irrelevant. Masaba has no time or space to breathe and deal with her failed marriage, and Neena doesn’t have enough opportunities to showcase her craft, which she genuinely wants to do. 

Neena Gupta’s character, in particular, has depth and complexity. However, it falls flat by the end of the series. Very rarely does one see the portrayal of the struggles of an older actress in an ageist industry. Neena does not subscribe to newspapers and magazines because the news of other people finding work in the industry irks her, but she asks her friend to bring news to her anyway. Particularly interesting is the storyline of Neena getting excited to meet Farah Khan for a potential work opportunity (at the cost of a family function in New Delhi, where her husband lives). The role she hears about is that of a sex-starved cougar, which she readily agrees to take on, but things don’t align for her – she hears from an external source that Farah Khan herself has decided to do the role. The sadness she feels is palpable. But the story moves forward too quickly, and her character arc is complete long before the story even reaches its climax. 

Masaba Masaba: A Messy Story of a Messy, Famous Mother-Daughter Duo

The mother and daughter share a complicated yet symbiotic relationship

The moments of tension between Masaba and Neena in the initial episodes of the series draw out the relationship between mother and daughter well at first, but the story struggles to hold on to that complexity throughout. When Neena hears of Masaba’s separation from a friend, she is worried; but it opens up a can of worms when Masaba has to move back into her house. The usual quarrelling aside, it is slowly revealed that Masaba married her now ex-husband because she felt like that was her only option if she wanted to live with him. She points to the fact that Neena was too afraid to live by herself when she was young, and that insecurity had forced its way into Masaba’s decision. The millennial-boomer tension doesn’t seem like a constant, looming thing between them – it vanishes as quickly as it comes.

Masaba embodies the messy millennial woman trope, but without the complexity

Perhaps the most disappointing character arc in the series is that of Masaba Gupta herself. The idea behind the story, as it seems, is to show how millennials can be – ambitious but lazy, brimming with ideas but very confused, angsty, broke, and in complicated relationships with their parents (and therapists). While the trope itself isn’t terrible, Masaba’s character deserved better treatment than it got. 

The storyline – dealing with her divorce, moving back in with her mother, handling a business, fighting with her mother and moving out to live by herself, away from a sheltered life – all had the potential to make Masaba a badass woman who dealt with everything in her own messy, millennial way and emerged stronger. But instead, we get a woman who, on the one hand, reminds her investor that she’s been in the business for 10 years, and on the other hand, manages to completely mess up the premiere of her collection. Not to mention that she – a well-known, massively famous designer – is broke! There is an attempt to give Masaba’s character some depth as she deals with a divorce as a young woman who eventually tries to find her place in the dating world, but it’s shabbily portrayed. The writers fall back to the trainwreck trope with regards to her sexual encounters when there was no need for it.

What was an attempt to make Masaba a relatable celebrity turned out to be a terrible portrayal of a woman who can’t handle a business she’s been running for a decade.

Masaba Masaba: A Messy Story of a Messy, Famous Mother-Daughter Duo

Given Masaba’s portrayal, it’s no surprise that the other millennial characters have been badly depicted as well. Gia Irani, Masaba’s best friend and the owner of a bar, doesn’t have much substance, though the potential was immense. There’s one measly moment where she talks about the bar being her family’s legacy that she had to carry forward, which could have been a big part of her character arc itself, but all she ends up becoming is Masaba’s problem-solver. There’s very little to their friendship except for the usual talk about men, sex, and vibrators.

What the series gets right, in all its twisted glory, is the pressure of being a single woman. Masaba’s desire to live on her own, away from her mother’s coddling, is refreshing to watch – especially adorable is how she enjoys things that would make her younger self happy as well (a younger version of Masaba appears every now and then, making it a pleasurable watch). Her struggle to find a house as a single woman and the constant reminders of her separation is something most single women would relate to. The beauty of the show lies in the fact that Masaba is trying to be happy living by herself, like she’s supposed to, as an independent, accomplished woman. Her struggle with her feminism was refreshing and vulnerable, which was one of the best things about her character.

The series is about the hot mess that is showbiz, and the attempt to show it from the eyes of a famous, single millennial woman and her mother is worth taking note of. There’s a dearth of stories like these. Bollywood – are you listening?

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