Indian National Award-winning actress Neena Gupta wasn’t thrilled when her 14-year-old daughter Masaba expressed her wish to join the Bollywood industry and become an actress just like her accomplished mother.
The ‘Badhaai Ho’ star was acutely aware that her daughter from her interracial relationship with West Indian cricketer Vivian Richards didn’t look like Bollywood’s conventionally lithe and light-skinned heroines.
While she managed to snuff out her daughter’s teenage aspirations temporarily, the single mom couldn’t alienate her from taking an acting plunge as an adult.
At 31, Masaba Gupta — the maverick fashion designer to Bollywood A-listers — is now the star of her own web series ‘Masaba Masaba’, streaming on Netflix right now.
Her partner in crime is ironically her protective mother, who plays herself in the first season of the show. Directed and written by Sonam Nair, ‘Masaba Masaba’ is a fictionalised series inspired from their own lives and will show the mother-daughter duo navigate the tricky terrain called life.
“But after seeing the series, I said sorry to her [for dissuading her from acting] … And when I saw the episodes, I was very impressed by her performance. I genuinely don’t t say it to many people, but I had to say it to her … She’s very good,” said Neena in an exclusive interaction with Gulf News tabloid over Zoom.
“She has all kinds of scenes in this series. All the navrasas were there … I found her to be very natural, realistic and relaxed.”
Her daughter Masaba was also a part of this conversation and believed that the parental resistance did her good.
“Someone just asked me: ‘Have you tasted blood now’?. And I said yes and felt that all these years since I was 14 there was a voice in the back of my head which wanted to do it more and more …. When someone says you cannot do something because of the way you look or whatever, you want to do it more,” said Masaba.
But the daughter doesn’t hold her mother’s reservations about becoming an actor hopeful against her. Her mother was convinced that Bollywood — which is known to stereotype actors based on their looks — wouldn’t treat her daughter fairly. Her big curls and dark skin may not fetch her desirable roles.
“The one thing I did know for sure is that I never wanted to do it at the cost of what my mum believed … She told me, don’t become an actor back then when I was 14 because she said I will be given this typical dark, sultry beauty roles who breaks up a family. I did not want to be put in a box because of my physical attributes,” said Masaba Gupta. She was also particular that she did not want her talented mother to do her ‘sifaarish’ [recommendation]. The prolific Hindi film industry is notorious for being nepotistic and being partial to kids born to acting dynasties.
“I did not want her to call up people asking them to audition her daughter … I did not want any of that because I wanted to do it on my own merit … And looking back, the reasons for me wanting to be an actor as a teenager were wrong and today they are right. Back then, I felt I wanted to be glamorous and I wanted to be on posters/hoardings. I wanted to be that star who wears dark glasses and rebuff those who ask me for autographs,” said Masaba with a laugh.
Today, she is in the acting field for all the right reasons. She loves being in front of the camera, claims Gupta. Perhaps she was relaxed and composed while making her acting debut because the stakes wasn’t particularly high. Her day-job will always be fashion designing and coming up with kooky prints.
“I love, love, love being on a set … I love the whole process. I think it also makes a difference that I have a career in fashion and that’s my full-time job. Fashion is something that I know I may have a fall back and I will always do that all my life … I think when you enter the field of acting in films in a manner that: ‘Oh my God, will I have food on my table next month or about survival, it may be different. This is not about survival it is about pure passion,” said Gupta.
While the series ‘Masaba Masaba’ gives us a peek into their daily lives as celebrities, it is nowhere as salacious or scandalous as the polarising reality show, ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’.
But in all fairness, the first season has made an effort to adopt a warts-and-mole approach as it touches upon Masaba’s divorce, her dating troubles and how her National Award-winning mother still struggles to find good roles in an increasingly ageist Bollywood industry.
“Of course, we are playing fictionalised versions of ourselves but at the same time it is up to the audiences to guess whether the scenes are scripted or exaggerated. That’s audience’s discretion … But our voices are genuine here.”
Masaba compares the series to leaving a ‘little door open’.
“So you are getting a peak into somebody’s life who you thought was a celebrity or somebody who you could not touch, feel or experience … That’s the fundamental idea — leaving a crack of the door open, but not really letting them have full access.” Both wanted the series to be organic and real.
Her mother — who famously raised her daughter as an unwed, single parent — believes the series is written in such a way that the script gels with the ‘real’.
“The makers have interlinked the fiction and reality in such a way that you think everything is real … you don’t feel as if the show is purely scripted.”
The series is funny and wicked too. The episodes gives us an idea about how Masaba handled her divorce and her subsequent dating life, her co-dependence on her mother after her split with her husband and more.
“At no point will the viewers feel conned … Everybody who will watch our series will realise that at the end of the day — be it a celebrity or a regular person — [when] going through a heartbreak, separation or anything tumultuous… their approach to life is rather similar. The series will tell you that no matter who you are in the course of the day, when you wake up and you go to bed, we are all the same people,” said Masaba.
Other than merely entertaining, the whacky and good-looking mother-daughter duo have another mission to accomplish. The two, especially Masaba, views their debut series as a personal victory.
“We can all agree that this place and industry [Bollywood] is reserved for a few people who look a certain way or, have a certain skin colour or a certain body type … But the time has come for this place to be reserved to people who can purely deliver as well. Everybody can have a place in the sun,” said Masaba. The self-titled body positivity champion views her debut series as her triumphant call for all those girls who don’t fit the conventional mould.
“I want this to be a victory for girls who feel less when they looked in to a mirror at a certain age and felt like they can’t join movies for a particular reason. I want them to think of this [Bollywood] as a happy place where you can protect yourself and still do a great work. I see it as personal victory.”
“I am going to enjoy both the appreciation and the criticism … I am not going to be one of those people who go into a shell if I am not received the way I think I should be received as an actor,” said Masaba Gupta on her ride into Bollywood so far.
‘Masaba Masaba’ is streaming on Netflix now.