Either it took me a second to get back into the rhythm, or the start of this second half was kind of “off”.
Real life background: Neena Gupta was a top art actress, and supporting mainstream film actress who became infamous when she got pregnant outside of marriage by Viv Richards, famous international Cricket player who was dark skinned. 20 years later, her daughter Masaba became instagram famous for her brilliant fashion designs and quickly took the Indian fashion world by storm. She also married, and then divorced. A couple years ago, Neena put up a social media post asking for work because. She was offered a bunch of films in response, one of which (Badhai Ho) made her a big name again.
Episode 4: On Neena’s side, she films a music video, which is an awkward experience as she is ignored a bit for the younger star Mithila (wrong casting here, Mithila isn’t a big name at all. But whatever, cross-promotion, maybe it will get people to watch “Little Things”). But then the video releases and it is perfect for her, makes her sexy and fearless and awesome, immediately starts trending, her life is finally back on track. On Masaba’s side, her life gets back on track too, but personally. She films a cheesy wax strip ad which makes her ask for support from her friend Gia, which makes Gia finally have enough with always being the supportive one. She gives Masaba a wake up call, Masaba dedicates time to supporting her friends instead of the other way around, and with Gia’s push (and seeing her ex with a new woman) she starts going on terrible dates. She learns her artist collaborator is gay, which takes him off the table, and agrees to take on her investor’s ex-stepdauther as an intern, and starts to see the investor in a new light. Culminating in accidentally sending him a text meant for Gia about how he might be hot.
Thank goodness, the show realized we are done with the storylines of the first half and ready to move on. Neena’s career agony is over, the Neena-Masaba closeness and then fighting is over, and Masaba’s naval gazing “how do I get over a divorce” agony is over. Neena and Masaba are back to being close friends kind of relationship, Masaba has her own place, Neena’s career is taking off, and most importantly, Masaba has stopped being terrible to the people around her.
Masaba is the main character, and a show has to start with the main character going through life changes. You sympathize with her, you are caught up in her journey, blah blah blah. Problem is, at a certain point the audience is going to run out of sympathy and start disliking the character unless we see them do something for other people. The first half of the season was about Masaba’s life falling apart and her struggling to deal. She had to announce her divorce, she was homeless, she clung to her mother and then pushed back against her mother, and her work suffered. But after three episodes, I was done with her whining. Thank goodness, the show was smart enough to see that and to start giving us a different side of Masaba. It was a little rockier at first just in terms of acting, Masaba isn’t a “real” actress after all, and she had to figure out how to play “normal and supportive person” without feeling fake. But totally worth it for the narrative.
We start with a bit of a continuation of last episode and the way Masaba is complaining about petty issues while Neena just sucks it up and moves on in a much harder position. Masaba is shooting a wax strip ad and it is cheesy and gross, the director isn’t part of the “best people” arty Bombay crowd we have seen so far, he speaks Hindi and even has a tika. And he wants her to be “sexy”. She rolls her eyes and makes her unhappiness clear, then sends an urgent message to Gia to come and make her feel better. Meanwhile, Neena is at a shoot for a music video, and her name is miss-spelled on the half-a-trailer she is given (the other half being for the dancers, very low on the totem pole). But she politely corrects the spelling, is happy to take the compliments the director and choreographer give her, works hard, doesn’t complain, and doesn’t even register when the younger actress (Mithila) is terribly rude to her. Where does Masaba get off complaining about a kind of scuzzy ad when her Mom is putting up with all this?
And that’s what Gia tells her. Well, not about Neena, but about Gia. She is trying to restart her family’s bar and save it from going under, she is scared and trying something hard and new, and Masaba has not been there for her at all. Instead, Masaba is complaining about an ad FOR WHICH SHE IS BEING PAID, and an apartment WHICH HER BOSS HANDED HER, and all these problems that aren’t really problems. And she hasn’t even thought to ask Gia how her day is or what she is dealing with. It is a perfectly timed speech, it couldn’t come in episode 2 or even 3 because then we would think Gia was being mean, or that we didn’t know the real story. But by this episode, yes, it makes sense. We had Masaba’s life falling apart, we saw her struggle, and we also saw Gia and her other friends show up for her again and again. Time for her to pay it back a little.
That’s the more important part of the episode, resetting Masaba as a good friend who has the resources to care for others, not just ask for help. And then it moves on to the inevitable (at least, to me) idea of Masaba and her investor maybe having a thing. We’ve seen her be awkward with him, we’ve seen him be abrupt but ultimately very kind to her, and we had the little gentling touch of showing him hanging out all the time with his ex’s daughter (implying he is a lot nicer of a guy than he appears). The artist seemed like more of a potential romance, but now he is gay, so that is knocked out.
Episode 5: Masaba’s side, she finally comes up with a theme for the new collection, “hot mess”. She moves forward with it quickly, meanwhile her investor stumbles over admitting her got the mistake text, is clearly excited about it, but sees that she may not even realize she sent it and doesn’t bring it up. The night before the launch, she sleeps with the artist (after he hits on her and she figures he is bisexual), and then everything goes wrong. The launch is on a boat, the showstopper actress shows up in the middle of a break up, the influencer people are almost not allowed on the boat because of weight issues, a model gets seasick and throws up on the runway, another one falls off the runway when the boat tips, the music cuts out, it’s all horrible. And Neena doesn’t come because she got the lead role in Badhai Ho and is on set, with her first vanity van and starring role, finally.
First, because I am shallow, I LOVE the way the romance is playing out! The investor has been this mysterious perfect guy, putting pressure on Masaba and also magically finding her an apartment. But now we see him agonizing over her text and nervous when he sees her again and just generally all atwitter. Just as she finally gets past her creativity block and feels suddenly confident and sure of herself around him, including a mention of “I’ve been doing this for ten years, I know what I’m doing”. I’ve been waiting for that because yes, SHE HAS. She started a fashion line just based on her pure genius and has been carrying it along for years, all of this personal distress and creative blocking lately has made her forget that. Time Masaba-the-character remembered, and reminded the audience too. Anyway, great flip on the romance.
Second, very interested that we started the show with a personal disaster and career high (getting an award). And now we are ending with a career disaster and personal much better. Her confidence is back, she is having one night stands and regretting them, there is a great guy interested in her and she doesn’t even realize it, all good. Despite the hiccup of this terrible fashion launch.
I’m glad that we are getting the Rise of Neena too. I am sure that will turn into conflict in the next episode, Masaba blaming her for not being there when she needs her and/or Neena making clear that no matter what happens in her career, Masaba comes first. I very much appreciated the little saying-without-saying conversation Neena and Masaba had about her pregnancy. Neena rehearsing for Badhai Ho means wearing a pregnancy belly, which means thinking about when she was pregnant. And she tells Masaba that no matter how it looked from the outside, “she’s so brave, she’s so strong”, no one knows how hard it was from the inside. But out of such a mess of her life, such good things came. It feels like a real conversation, not a perfect platitude of “getting pregnant with you made my life into a mess and was the hardest thing I ever had to do, but it was worth it because I got you”, but the way two people would talk who already know everything and are just considering a new angle on an old story of their life. Anyway, I want more of that to end the season, some kind of consideration of how Neena becoming a mother changed her whole life and career, and whether that is something she regrets or not, or something Masaba feels guilty about or not.
Oh, also, this episode, finally confirmed that Neena-in-the-show is married in a way I couldn’t miss, there were references all along and she had called some nice man a few times in Delhi, but I wasn’t 100% sure. Neena-in-real-life is married, which I didn’t realize. She married in 2008 to a chartered accountant with his own busy career, based in Delhi. They are in lockdown together now, but usually their marriage is about sort of visiting each other, his life is in Delhi and his work is all over the world, and her work is in Bombay,
Episode 6: On Neena’s side, she starts work on Badhai Ho, everyone is very nice and she does a good job with the first shot, and Masaba even comes to watch her and wish her well. At the end, Masaba throws her a 60th party and everyone comes, and she dances with her husband. On Masaba’s side, she goes to her life coach/therapist and is challenged to face her problems, which leads to her going to support her mother, then facing the investors after the disaster show, then throwing together a photo shoot using her staff to post on instagram and get people looking at the collection, then meeting her ex and signing the papers to sell their house, then going back to the investor to give him the check from the house sale and start paying him back, only to learn that her collection is trending and she is a success, plus he finally indicates he got the text from her and maybe there is something there. At the 60th birthday party, they dance together. And then she goes home alone, happily, to get an alert that her period is late.
This episode felt slightly rushed to me. They had to get Masaba to the “I need to face my problems” realization, and get her collection a surprise hit, and get her resolution with her ex, and tease something with the backer, and that was a lot to squeeze into one episode. The way each storyline was handled made sense to me, I especially liked the investor just dropping a reference into conversation that makes her figure out the text problem herself. But it was a lot of resolution, one after the other. And her therapist pointing out she runs from problems was a little pat also.
I did like the way the episode tied back to the first one. There was a comment about her “original problem”, meaning her husband and divorce. And we ended in the same set where we began, her bedroom in her old marriage apartment. We also ended with a big event, but this time instead of being a formal award show, it was a private birthday party.
I also liked the storylines that DIDN’T have a big resolution a lot. For instance, at the end of the first episode, we see her personal assistant overhear her argument with her husband and look stunned and surprised. In this episode, we see the personal assistant watching her dance, and then the artist kind of gently teasing her in a way that suggests she is gay (or bi) and in love with Masaba. There’s no resolution there, Masaba seems to be firmly straight, and her assistant seems to just have a gentle crush, not a life ending love story. But it adds something to the rest of the season, seeing it as her assistant learning the girl she likes might be single, then watching her cycle through work trauma and relationship trauma, and finally ending with still having a crush but no hope of acting on it. Neena and her husband, in the same way, they are dancing at the party, no big conversation or argument or anything between them, he was just there in the background the whole season along with their cross-city marriage.
Overall, it’s an interesting show. The idea of taking a real life story line, ever so slightly changing it (like, making Masaba’s husband a musician instead of a filmmaker), and casting a mixture of real people and actors to play the roles, that’s new to me and I like the way they handled it. I am a little curious about the cliffhanger of Masaba’s period being late, because that’s a cliffhanger in a lot of ways. Masaba-the-person is not pregnant and has never had a child. If the show decides to go that route, it means they are firmly turning away from “reality” and into fiction. I hope they don’t, I hope she gets an abortion (which would mean it is still in the real of possibly reality). But on the other hand, if the show doesn’t get a second season, this is a fascinating ending. To say “we are going to take a leap into fiction, and leave you there”.