When she first heard the concept of a show on her daughter, Neena Gupta was a bit confused.
“I thought it is a documentary on Masaba. But why would anyone want to watch a documentary on her?” she says. As it turned out, Masaba Masaba, now streaming on Netflix, was a genre-bender. Fact meets a generous dose of fiction in the show, that celebrates the unconventional lives of Masaba, 31, and her mother, without shying away from their vulnerabilities.
The first draft of the script was enough to convince Neena, 61. “At the heart of the show is the message that one has to clean up one’s own mess,” the actor says.
For Masaba, a contemporary designer known for her dramatic digital prints, the best part was that it was not a reality show with a camera following them around.
The storyline was developed after director Sonam Nair and the show’s writers interviewed the mother and daughter a few times. The narrative touches upon Masaba’s marriage and separation; and the rumour following her 2008 wedding to a Delhi resident that Neena has moved out of Mumbai. It features the famous Instagram post by Neena which read: “I live in Mumbai and (am) working as a good actor looking for good parts to play”. This, reposted by Masaba, created a stir that eventually led to Neena being cast in the commercially successful Badhaai Ho (2018). One real-life incident that Masaba was certain that the show should featureinvolved a Delhi shopkeeper telling her that “Masaba is a country in Africa”. “I was at a Lajpat Nagar fabric shop. The shop assistant offered to show me some new prints, called ‘Masaba prints’. When I said I was Masaba, he said that’s not possible as ‘Masaba is a country in Africa’,” recounts Masaba, whose father is the former West Indian cricketer Vivian Richards.
In the show, Masaba, who, in real life, has a personal Instagram handle as well as one dedicated to her fashion brand ‘House of Masaba’, is a social-media savvy celebrity with a propensity for elaborate hashtags. Nair says it’s Masaba’s Insta Stories that initially gave showrunner Ashvini Yardi the idea for a show in which celebrities don’t hesitate to laugh at themselves.
This is Masaba’s debut as an actor. Masaba aspired to be a professional tennis player, a musician and a dancer before she burst on to the Indian fashion scene as a promising young talent at the Lakmé Fashion Week in 2009. “Masaba always wanted to act but I told her not to as I thought she didn’t have the face of an Indian heroine. She listened to me and didn’t pursue it earlier,” says Neena. More than her daughter, it is Neena who was nervous about her ability to pull it off. She was relieved when, during the readings of the script, Masaba seemed to be at ease. “Masaba is a natural actor with an international look. She is intelligent and grasps the scenes quickly,” says Nair. Now Neena now believes that acting is either “in Masaba’s genes or is her destiny”.
Since Masaba has a full-time career as a designer, she opted for a different kind of preparation to face the camera. She told Prashant Singh, acting coach and casting director, that there would be days when she would come to the set after a whole day’s work or vice-versa. Most of the preparatory sessions with Singh featured meditation and exercises. “These were meant to tap into my subconsciousness and make me more relaxed,” recounts Masaba, who enjoyed the process of developing the show — from deciding on their costume to what their homes would look like.
At the heart of the show is the warm mother-daughter dynamic the two share. When Masaba returns to her mother’s home heartbroken, she seeks comfort in the paranthas from her kitchen. Like any regular mother and daughter, they have their disagreements, too. When asked about their fights, Masaba says they have had too many to list. Neena believes the mother-daughter relationship is such that even if they fight “like cats and dogs, after 10 minutes, they are okay with each other”. An apology always helps. “After that, both our decibel levels come down. Then, there are times, a parantha does the trick,” says Neena.
Are they emotionally dependent on each other? “Hundred per cent,” comes the reply from Neena. “Masaba is independent. We started Masaba’s business together, but she is on her own now. I don’t interfere in it at all. But emotionally, we depend on each other. Sometimes, I am her child. Sometimes, she is my child,” says Neena. The mother and daughter are likely to return on screen for another season of the show.
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