We need things to feel good about right now. Such balms are scarce at this time, for the international pandemic and the national economy have had negative effects on nearly every one of us. It’s too early to count our unhatched hopes, as well, even though it helps at many moments to remember resilience, count lucky turns, consider what it means to have advantages, weigh up blessings, celebrate small wins, and so on. A privilege I enjoy and am thankful for daily is my entertainment streaming subscription (just one this year, yes, thanks to that metaphorical tightening of the belt), Netflix, which sparked up my screen last week with Masaba Masaba. The series stars the actor Neena Gupta and her daughter, designer Masaba Gupta, playing themselves, referencing their lives’ events within the framework of fiction.
The can’t-take-your-eyes-off-her gorgeous Masaba Gupta is such a natural that you wonder for a millisecond why this talented woman didn’t follow in her mother’s footsteps earlier, but you know the answer: how often do we see someone dark-skinned and not thin star in Indian productions, especially without fetishizing those attributes? To play herself isn’t a conceit; it’s the ultimate gambit in an industry that has never looked kindly on anyone who doesn’t fit certain conventional models.
Indeed, the overall unconventionality of the Guptas is given a refreshingly breezy treatment. There’s no drumming up of Neena’s decision to have a child out of wedlock in the 80s, Masaba’s mixed heritage or divorce, or other angles that a different show, one that tried too hard, would have milked. Even the humiliating experience of seeking to rent a home as a single woman, or the hurtful one of being disrespected after a booty call, are shown matter-of-factly, but without pressing for pathos. It’s not just a feel-good show, but also one that doesn’t talk down to us.
A couple of days after I finished the series, I realised what the intangible thing that I’d especially liked about it was. Masaba Masaba ends on what would usually qualify as a television cliffhanger, but the lightness of touch that makes this show so effervescent means the conclusion settles rather differently. In a time during which nothing can be taken for granted and nothing is guaranteed, it’s nice to feel like one has actually fully experienced something, without a residual pang of any kind. It would certainly be delightful to see the Gupta women onscreen together again, but it would also be perfectly alright if another season didn’t come around, soon or even ever. You know how sometimes all you need is one little cupcake, and you don’t have to reach for another? That feeling – of, to put it simply, a kind of self-containment that doesn’t have to mean finality, but also could – is this show’s endnote.
This is what makes this show so perfect for pandemic viewing. There’s not only a wholesomeness but also a wholeness to it. In this time of losses and longings, so many unfulfillments, it doesn’t leave us craving. In any other year, this would be a backhanded compliment at best – but this year, it’s anything but. It’s peak satisfaction.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on September 7th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.