The concept of a famous person playing a fictionalised version of themselves on a film or television project is well-worn in Hollywood. Over the years, we’ve seen the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David have tremendous success in pioneering this idea through Seinfeld and Curb your Enthusiasm. We’ve also seen Matt LeBlanc and comedy rapper Dave Burd put in powerhouse performances for hilarious but slightly inconsistent projects in Episodes and Dave respectively.
So when the mother-daughter duo of legendary actor Neena Gupta and fashion designer Masaba Gupta came up with their own take on a fake comedic autobiography in 2020, they were entering a world of stiff competition and risked coming up way short as a cliched imitation. However, the six-episode run of Masaba Masaba (2020) was a surprising breath of fresh air and resulted in a feel-good final product that played it safe but wasn’t afraid to take dozens of potshots per episode.
Nearly two years later, Masaba and Neena, with the help of returning director Sonam Nair, producer Ashvini Yardi and co-writer Nandini Gupta, are making a triumphant return to Netflix, putting to rest any lingering doubts of a second season syndrome that is all too common in television and streaming.
Flipping the script
As with the inaugural season, Masaba Masaba 2 centres on the everyday misadventures of its titular character, luxury fashion designer Masaba Gupta and of her mother, Neena, successfully combining the acerbic language of a Dave (2020) with the aspirational emotional core of a TVF Pitchers (2015). The difference between the two seasons comes in terms of its story beats and visual style, while it retains its strong prioritisation of character development over purely plot-driven episodic content.
The first season began with Masaba coming to terms with her impending divorce that is leaked via a paparazzi blind item the day she won an award, while Neena attempts to regain prominence in an industry that had left her behind in recent years. However, the second season flips the script somewhat. Neena kicks things off by unintentionally spreading a rumour on a talk show appearance amid her career resurgence, while Masaba quickly finds herself as an industry “warrior struggling to remain relevant”, superseded by younger Instagram influencers.
Smart use of the cast
In many ways, Masaba Masaba has done for Bollywood fashion what Dave has done for American hip hop, weaving in big-name cameos for fan service. But one thing the team behind Masaba Masaba do much better than Dave is they clearly recognise the limited range of unnamed cast members. Neena Gupta efficiently and judiciously uses them where they are most relevant to the show.
For instance, Kareema Barry and Barkha Singh are perhaps best considered as influencers first, actors second, but in their small roles as Masaba’s industry rival and wedding dress clients respectively, they nail their performances as unsympathetic, unlikeable figures to comedic effect.
Similarly impressive compared to two years ago, is that the team has slowly but surely pushed the envelope in terms of a striking visual style, with several sequences essentially emulating music videos and social media application UIs, much like how Dave or Pitchers has done before. But they never veer into self-indulgence or lose sight of the emotional heart, which has defined many of Masaba-Neena’s interactions throughout the series.
Two seasons and 12 episodes in, Masaba Masaba may never be as iconic as Seinfeld, as experimental as Dave, as witty as Episodes or as absurd as Curb, but it continues to compete with the best on Netflix by capturing the vapid aspects of fashion, film and influencer culture, with a healthy dose of finding the funny in cringeworthy situations.
With regards to a potential third season, the only way for Masaba and company is up. Hopefully, it will push the envelope even further to cement itself as a Netflix staple.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)