The Indian web series Masaba Masaba released on Netflix exactly a month ago. The show is an autofictional ( a term used in literary criticism for a fictionalised autobiography) representation of Indian fashion designer Masaba Gupta’s life with both Masaba and her mother veteran Indian actor Neena Gupta playing themselves. The show has been called many things right from “an uninteresting rendition of an interesting life” to one that “is a sanitized gaze into Neena & Masaba’s lives“. I’m not going to bore you with another review but I will say this – I went into my binge-watching session with my curiosity levels at an all-time high. I’ve admired Masaba Gupta for a while now – she chose to forge her own path in an industry unconnected with either of her well-known parents and she’s done it consistently, year after year, without losing sight of her ‘voice’. And one way she’s been able to build her professional and personal brand is through her use of social media.
While Masaba Gupta may have chosen to show us an editorialised version of some #hotmess parts of her life, the role that social media plays in Masaba Masaba is – just like her prints – unmistakably loud and clear. Here are 3 standout instances that stayed with me.
(Spoiler alert: if you haven’t watched the show yet and want to then please stop reading – maybe read my post on Indian Matchmaking instead?)
Plain-text announcement of something deeply personal
At some point or the other, those of us who use social media on a regular basis have felt the need to set the record straight on seemingly important issues in our lives and Masaba here is no different. In the show, just like in real life, Masaba announces the end of her marriage on Instagram by uploading a screenshot of a joint statement written in plain text (now deleted). By now, we’ve seen multiple celebrities, influencers and even regular Instagram users around the world employ this method when they have something serious to say – often an apology, a clarification or a personal announcement that merits a certain gravitas. With this method of communication, Masaba manages to take back some control over the narrative surrounding her life and the various blind items published about the state of her relationship. When rumours of infidelity began to do the rounds, Masaba again took to social media in real life to address and shut down the character assassination of her now ex-partner. This plain-text approach, from a visual perspective, stands out in stark contrast to the various images & videos dominating our feeds. There’s also the Create mode on Instagram Stories which allows you to share plain text posts without any pictures or video.
The oh-so-familiar “#imafraud” feeling
Watching Masaba try to frame an Instagram post that showed her appearing to be productive and living her best #girlboss life when she felt completely different in that moment was one of the most relatable elements of the show for me. At the risk of sounding preachy, I told myself a long time ago that this was a game I wouldn’t play, no matter how tempted I felt. It’s hard not to use social media as platform to gain a sense validation and show that you’re keeping up with Joneses (or Kardashians, if you prefer) but there’s no self-worth to be found at the end of that rainbow. Even in the show, Masaba recognises that the simple act of showing fake progress on her new collection makes her feel inauthentic and uncomfortable. She decides against it. I think that sort of self-awareness – even if it is shown briefly – is an important takeaway for all of us. It’s ok to feel like you need to do more, it’s ok to visualise where you want to be or how you want to be perceived, and it’s definitely ok to be confused about it all. But projecting a completely different image of who you are and lulling yourself into believing that an Instagram post can make you come across as more outgoing, accomplished or confident comes with its own pitfalls. The most recent and relevant example of this is Paris Hilton and how different she is to the “character” she played on her reality series that went on to cement her “dumb blonde” personality. In an interview about her new YouTube documentary titled This is Paris she says “I think people are going to finally realize that I’m not this cartoon character or Barbie doll that they thought, but I’m actually a human being who has feelings and depth”.
Using Instagram as a runway, lookbook, portfolio, moodboard and more
Scroll through Masaba’s personal Instagram account and you’ll find a whole range of content: yes, you’ll find the standard celebrity brand endorsements, event announcements etc. but you’ll also find pattern reveals, behind-the-scenes photos from shoots, childhood photos, body-positivity posts and of course reveals of #houseofmasaba collections. In the show, Masaba chooses to get over a disastrous fashion show held on a boat by refocusing the conversation on the collection itself, and she does this by showcasing her creations on Instagram. Her obvious comfort with the medium and desire to be in control of her narrative is a consistent part of her journey as a fashion designer – both on the show and in real life. Masaba has the distinction of being the world’s first designer to host an Instagram fashion show (showcased during the the 2015 edition of Lakmé Fashion Week). Just like any of us, Masaba enjoys talking about her work and uses her Instagram account as a way to frame the delivery of her vision for her brand, what she wants to reveal about her personal life and her thoughts/opinions.
Bonus: The now-famous ‘Looking for good parts to play’ post
Masaba isn’t the only one from her family to use social media effectively: on July 28, 2017 Neena Gupta posted a picture of herself on Instagram with the caption “I live in Mumbai and working am a good actor looking fr good parts to play”. The show incorporates this incident into the script and gives us some insight into why she made the post: people assumed she wasn’t available for work because they thought she had moved permanently to Delhi after her marriage. Although I’m not sure if this explanation is fact or fiction, there’s no denying that Neena Gupta took charge of her own career once again with this move. Her caption was direct, to the point, spelling out exactly what she wanted without making any references to her considerable achievements in the world of Indian television, cinema and theatre. Both on the show and in real life, Masaba reposted her mother’s picture and caption on her account with some hard-hitting truths of her own that made the Bollywood sit up and acknowledge the reality of ageism & lack of good parts for senior female actors. The post led to Neena Gupta eventually signing a bunch of interesting projects after this including Badhaai Ho, Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan and the Amazon Prime web series Panchayat . What’s interesting to note is Masaba’s use of social media to let her mother know just how proud she is of her – the show also has Neena Gupta comment on this. I’ve done this a number of times myself with my own mom – sometimes we find the strength to say the things we might get overwhelmed by on social media instead of face-to-face. Don’t ask me why!
Have you watched Masaba Masaba? Do you relate with Masaba’s use of social media, both on the show and in her real life?.
(All images belong to Netflix)