Woo, what a fun interesting TV show perfectly designed for the DCIB audience! And nice a short and light too. I’m gonna do quick short reviews of the episodes, grouping the first 3 and the last 3. Also, VERY IMPORTANT, if you liked this show you should watch Little Things. It doesn’t have the celebrity aspect, but very similar slice of modern Indian life.
Background: Masaba Gupta is the daughter of Neena Gupta and Viv Richards. Neena was a respected fairly well-known actress, the kind who played small parts in big movies and big parts in art movies and on TV. Viv Richards was one of the top Cricket players in the world. Viv was both non-Indian, and of African/dark skinned descent. And Neena Gupta not only did not marry him, she didn’t even pretend to be sad about that. This was a Very Very Big Deal when Masaba was a baby. Neena kept working through out her childhood in similarly small TV parts and things, and Masaba was raised within the film enclave of Bombay, with a community that accepted her “scandal” even if the wider Indian culture couldn’t. As a young woman, she burst on the fashion scene, truly brilliant designer. Her filmi friends (fellow film brats raised in the same community, going to the same schools, and so on) all loved her work and flocked to her, and she became a celebrity in her own right, known as a fashion designer and good friend of so-and-so and such-and-such. She married at 25, to a very successful young interesting movie producer (in with Anurag Kashyap and that crowd), and divorced him last year.
Episode 1: Masaba goes through a day, starting with consulting with her team of stylists about what dress to wear to an award show that night, then going to work and styling actress Kiara Advani, going to therapy with a Star Wife/Life Coach, hanging out with a friend, then going to the award that night and making a fool of herself trying to talk to her fashion line’s rich backer. In parallel, we see Neena Gupta going through her day, havin ga driving lesson, talking with a friend, trying to reach Masaba by phone. Through out the day there is the stress of a blind item which broke that morning seeming to indicate she and her husband are getting divorced. Her good friend who she meets up with after work knows all about the separation. Her staff seems like they might know as well. But her “friends” the celebrities do not know, and she has not told her mother. After the event, she and her husband talk in the car and decide to just post something on instagram, announce it to the world, no more tip-toeing around.
This episode establishes two big themes that I expect to carry through the season. The first is the public/private divide. Masaba and her husband are absolutely separated. She is not ashamed of it, there is no internal conflict over this, her husband moved out, they care about each other, they are dealing in a dignified way. And her friend who she meets seems to know all about it and she and Masaba talk practically about it, as well as her friend’s similar recent break up. But Masaba does not want to talk about this at work. Unfortunately, for her, “work” includes socializing. Kiara shows up and pretends to be her friend and not just a client, and Masaba has to go along with that pretense. The same with the magazine editor running the award show. These are really work acquaintances, if Masaba were a “normal” person it would be none of their business that she was separated. But because she is who she is, there is a blind item about it, and now all these work people are pushing for dish. There’s this challenge where either you lie when people ask you straight out, or you tell them things that are deeply personal and they really have no right to know. The “real” Masaba, the private one, tells her friends and her therapist what is happening. But the “work” Masaba has to tread a fine line.
Second theme, mother and daughter! Masaba is on screen for the whole episode, except for a few moments when we see Neena. Neena doesn’t get THAT much time by herself, but the fact that she is the only character who gets a point of view outside of Masaba is significant. The episode opens with the two of them living separate lives, Masaba with her busy work, Neena trying to learn how to drive and pursuing her late in life bucket list. But once the blind item appears, Neena loses all interest in everything else and starts searching through gossip papers for more news, trying to reach Masaba, and so on. Masaba’s journey is more subtle. Her mother’s messages seem to be just one more strain on top of other strains of the day. Until she is talking to her husband in the car at the end and starts worrying most about her mother finding out they are separated. When she learns he has told his family, she doesn’t say “then the media is going to find out”, she says “they will tell my mother”. And when he gets out of the car, after they have posted a joint instagram statement, she goes straight to Neena’s doorstep and they embrace as the episode ends, journey complete, mother and daughter together.
Episode 2: Masaba is blocked with her new collection and her backer is running out of patience, and she is running out of money. Neena skips a family event to have a meeting with Farah Khan with the promise of a wonderful new role, only to learn at the end that Farah cast herself in the part instead. This time, the public face issues disappear, instead it is about the private face. Neena feels left behind by her friend group, Masaba has to go to a friend’s art show alone and is pressured into buying something she can’t afford, although she also has a nice brief encounter with another artist at the gallery. At the end the stress bursts out into putting their problems on each other, Neena accusing Masaba of ruining her marriage by having an affair with another man, and Masaba accusing Neena of ruining her life by forcing her into marriage.
Way more all over the place in this episode, time is unclear, maybe it is over a week, maybe a month, not sure. That’s on purpose I think, we open with Masaba feeling like she has reverted to childhood, and in a way the journey of this episode is the whole journey of mother and daughter from childhood to adulthood. And it is also way more evenly split between Masaba and Neena. Both of them are dealing with the stress of feeling unfulfilled in their personal life, and their professional life, and not sure which is worse and how to balance the two. At first all is easy. Masaba feels like a little girl again, Neena enjoys fussing over her like she is little. Halfway through, Masaba’s backer calls and Neena grabs the phone and yells at him to leave her alone. It could have been a moment of Masaba being angry with Neena for interfering, but instead she is grateful and then fusses over helping Neena pick an outfit for her big Farah Khan meeting. This is Masaba and Neena as a happy mother-daughter team, they way they might have been when Masaba was a teenager. A step up from the childhood feeling of the opening, Masaba can contribute now, can help Neena, but still a team. Until they start to spread further apart, Masaba has to go be with her friends in a scary social event. And Neena feels the tension and excitement of a career boost again. Neena loses out and reacts by throwing herself more into her daughter’s life, if her career is a failure at least she can succeed as a mother. And Masaba reacts to a difficult stressful time with friends by wanting to pull away from her mother and be allowed to make her own mistakes.
Episode 3: Once again, it is over the course of a contained time period, just a few days. After their fight, Masaba storms off and stays with her assistant, which inspires her to finally find a place to stay on her own. She struggles because she needs the money for a down payment, no landlord wants to rent to a single woman and a celebrity, and so on. Her investor surprisingly saves her by offering her a number for a friend who will rent and accommodate her payment schedule. She also makes the first moves to collaborating with the artist she met at the party on her new collection. In the end, she makes up with her mother and moves in to her own place. Meanwhile, Neena is on her own journey, after the fight she reaches out to her agent again who says she thought Neena was in Delhi after marriage (retired, basically). Neena reminds her that no, she is working, she wants jobs. She is depressed and then puts up a post on instagram asking for work. Masaba reposts it which is the start of it trending and by the next day Neena is doing interviews while Masaba is moving in, and then hitting up an old boyfriend for a one night stand.
This is an interesting theme for the episode, the struggles of being an independent woman from two sides. Masaba is right at the beginning of it, her confidence as a young woman that there is nothing to fear and nothing bad will happen for the first time hitting her creative roadblock, her inability to get a flat as a single woman, and the divorce which is shaking everything up. And Neena is at the end of it, decades surviving as a woman in a hard business and a hard world. They come together because Masaba begins to get a glimpse of how hard her mother had to work, and how much she struggled after spending just one day totally on her own. And Neena forgives because she doesn’t want Masaba out there by herself like she has been.
This is also the episode that is most directly about a known real story. Neena did put up an instagram post asking for work a few years back, which is how her career rebirth started. It did go viral, and it did lead to a bunch of jobs, and now she is a big name again. Everything in the show so far has been more or less “real”. Masaba did get divorced from a husband somewhat famous in his own right, and along the way I am sure there were moments when she was stressed about rumors, deciding how to announce, leaning on her mom, getting her first place alone, and so on. And of course she is really the famous young social media smart designer daughter of a former art actress mother. But the “Neena Gupta posts on social media asking for work” story, that is something everyone would know and recognize immediately.
One thing this episode did really well that I want to pull out is the one night stand with the ex going bad scene. After they sleep together, they laugh about what went wrong, how silly they were, and so on. And then he slips out that he is in a relationship now. She is furious, because he is cheating again and this time she is the cheater. He says she can never be satisfied, doesn’t know how to be happy, she left him to get married and then she got divorced, so neither marriage nor divorce made her happy! In most other shows, after this whole “you don’t know how to be happy” speech, we would see the heroine thinking deeply and be left with the message of “ah, she really doesn’t know! He saw her clearly and explained her to herself!” But this time the scene doesn’t feel like that. It feels like what it is, a scuzzy guy who is trying to turn things around on her so she will feel bad. It’s part of the whole episode, part of all the things women have to put up with.