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Masaba Masaba Is A Glamorous Watch, Glossing Over Real Struggles Even Privileged Women Can Have

Posted: August 30, 2020

Masaba Masaba, a fictionalised version of Neena and Masaba Gupta’s lives is ‘just okay’, not the inspiring, fun watch we had been looking forward to.

Masaba Masaba on Netflix is a fictionalized version of the lives of Neena and Masaba Gupta, in which they star as themselves. While bits of the show are entertaining, on the whole it comes across as bland and uninspiring.

For a long time now, I’d been waiting for Netflix’s Masaba Masaba, which had been receiving a lot of hype.

Both Masaba and Neena Gupta are fabulously independent, trendsetting women, and a look into their lives, however fictionalized, would be a delight to watch. There would be much to take away, I thought, in terms of how patriarchy works to ensure, that women, no matter where in the socioeconomic ladder they stand, face similar issues.

Masaba Masaba is a six episode series, in which they play themselves, and which features both real incidents from their life (such as Neena Gupta’s famous Instagram post, and her landing a role in Badhaai Ho), interspersed with fictionalized events. Apart from that, celebrities like Kiara Advani, Gajraj Rao, Mithila Palkar and Farah Khan also make an appearance, playing themselves.

Neither Neena or Masaba owe us an in-depth look into their lives. They are completely entitled to their privacy. However, much of the marketing around the show did emphasize that we would see that struggle. Quoting Masaba, “The series is packed with a combination of laughter, tears, struggles and inspiration that I’m hoping will resonate with women around the globe.”

In addition, both Neena Gupta and Masaba have been quite vocal in interviews about the challenges they have had to conquer, and I expected the show to touch upon those in greater detail. What we get though, is more of the same. It approaches the issues from a distance, and then just…stops and glosses over them. Almost as if the makers were afraid that delving too deep would make the show less entertaining, or funny.

In the end, I neither liked the show, nor disliked it. My only take-away was that if you’re rich and famous enough, your problems will be taken care of by the Universe and solutions will fall into your lap, for example:

On getting a divorce

Divorced? Just announce it on Instagram.

Yes. So simple, right? After all, that’s what most Indian women do? No worrying about the financial fallout, no having to deal with all the advice that you should just “adjust,” no being stereotyped as the “gold digger” who just wants alimony, no having to deal with stigma, or extended family, or lack of social support or anything really.

Sure, there will be society people who will talk behind your back. And you will have to worry about money a bit. But these are all minor issues, dahling!

Privilege cuts through anything

Can’t find a house as a divorced young woman. Don’t worry. What are friends for?

Why deal with middle class brokers who will show you these middle class apartments with their tacky décor, and mice running around? I mean you want to be an independent woman, with your own space, but that doesn’t mean you will settle for any dump, right?

I mean surely, you have a rich social contact, who has a rich friend, who has that perfect apartment lying empty, right? That beautiful, spacious apartment in Mumbai, with a spectacular view.

What financial troubles?

Financial troubles? Those things have a way of fixing themselves.

Yeah, there are only a few lakhs lying in the bank account. Enough to buy some outrageously priced, meaningless ‘art’ that your ‘sort of friend’ made, that you don’t even like, right? And rent a fabulous new apartment because your mom is SO ANNOYING, and because you need your own space!

Ugh! Why does your accountant have to mention in front of all your employees that you may not have the money to pay their salaries? So inconvenient.

And my investor; all he has done is put money into my business and now he thinks he is my boss or something. Keeps coming around to see if I’m actually working and demanding accountability. All that is for the non-creative types. Creatives like me, we need the perfect time and place for inspiration to strike us.

Not for us, these worries

Actually, these middle class people in general are so frustrating!

All these drivers, domestic workers, assistants…so frustrating! Can’t even help you pick what saree you should wear for your interview with Farah Khan!

And sure, you were horny, so you slept with that artist who works for you. His home looked a lot better at night when you were having sex. But now, in the clear light of day? Hmm. Best avoid him. And if he calls you out for that, pretend that talking about these things is so unnecessary. He’ll get the message right?

Aunty kisko bola bey?

Feeling discriminated against because of your age? Just diss younger women. That’s not ageism right?

Yeah, I mean only elderly women have to bear the brunt of ageism. These younger actresses – they are so unprofessional. And the industry is just falling at their feet all the time. Struggle…what struggle? They’re not struggling. Look at them. They get all the meaty roles. Like item numbers that sexualize them. Or having to play the hero’s mother when they are actually younger than him. Or just being arm candy on screen. (Ironic, especially as this scene is filmed alongside shots of Masaba being objectified by a male director on the sets of an advertisement.)

It’s the younger heroines who are the problem, you see. Not the patriarchal system which pits women against each other, and certainly not all the powerful men in Bollywood. And this feminism business is such nonsense anyway!

And yeah, let’s make that music video about even older women can be hot and sexy, and diss younger women for their makeup and Instagram filters and all that. Of course ‘aunty’ is an insult. Only old women are aunties. Oh wait…something about that logic seems off.

But who cares? It went viral, right! That’s what matters.

Choli ke peeche… what?

Talking about that sexy video…Didn’t your family WhatsApp group just LOVE it?

Oh yeah! They really complimented me on my performance in the video. And they loved that “choli ke peeche mera dil abhi shola be” line (my heart is still passionate). This is the sort of stuff that is regularly seen in my family WhatsApp group. Not good morning forwards with pictures of Ganesha, and long messages about the right way to perform Karwa Chauth, or sexist jokes. My family is so progressive, you know.

Okay, I guess you get the drift now.

Glossing over the very real struggle, isn’t this irresponsible?

I know this piece is incredibly catty.  And to be fair, the show does show the fictional Masaba dealing with gossip, trying to find a house as a single divorced woman, the financial strain, etc. but it chooses to downplay the struggle. The end result is that one doesn’t really feel that she is struggling at all. The problems all seem like tiny molehills that she can skip over in her haute couture clothes.

It is perhaps trying to show that celebrities have problems too, but what comes out much more strongly is how privilege works. And privilege is not just about money. It is about social network, and power relative to others.

As RJ Stutee says in her review, what we see here is an incredibly “manicured and sanitized” vision of their lives. She goes to further point out that there is a lot that the show leaves unexplored, for example, Masaba grew up as a mixed race child in an incredibly racist society. Neena Gupta too, did not have an easy time as a single mother. There is also the fact that Neena Gupta herself advised Masaba not to go into acting because her looks did not match what Indian audiences expect from their heroines.

I only wish the show had been brave enough, and honest enough to explore these facets of their lives. To let the viewer feel something. But it doesn’t and that’s a shame, because both of them are so talented and so good on screen. The same goes for the supporting cast – not one false note in the acting itself.

However, there is no real complexity or depth. Even their ‘hot mess’ is carefully curated to make them look good. It’s good escapism, to watch them deal with their “problems,” which are conveniently resolved, but not much more.

So what we have now is a lavish feast. The most delectable dishes. But taste them, and you realize — there is no salt in any of them!

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