How Masaba Masaba points to a flaw in television programming
e all love our Netflix, and we love the great, thinky shows the platform offers as well as the mindless made-for-Netflix movies, and the epic productions that have been coming out of India and finding a home on it.
From Indian Matchmaking to Fame Game, Indian television has taken a new, experimental course, which defies the standards set by Star Plus soaps. On an OTT platform, the restrictions on length or content have looser boundaries than they would on a television channel, which is understandable. TV channels have to adhere to time slots and standards set by parent companies, sponsors, audiences and censor boards. While this shouldn’t necessarily translate to mediocre content, oftentimes, it does.
Masaba Masaba, which premiered on Netflix two years ago, follows the lives of mother-daughter duo, Neena and Masaba Gupta. You might enjoy the show and its lighthearted drama, or you may dismiss it as completely mindless and divorced from reality, but while being entertaining enough to reel in an audience of all ages, Masaba Masaba quietly highlights attitudes that persist in fashion and entertainment industries.
In season 1, Masaba Gupta struggles to put forth a collection for her design house, House of Masaba, which appeals to her clientele, remains true to her artistic philosophy, and caters to the demands of her investors. This is a small scene in her storyline, which otherwise deals with the fallout of her divorce, but an investor asking her to have designs approved before sending them out is something anyone working with corporate clients and sponsorships could empathize with.
Neena Gupta tries to reignite her career in season 1, and successfully does so. However, in season 2, while she sees the fruits of her success, she is also forced to notice how the entertainment landscape has changed since she was last on television.
As Neena Gupta works on a reboot of the fictional TV series, Fursat, which in the show’s universe had aired 30 years prior, she finds the original premise is something her studio heads and colleagues no longer want. Fursat had dealt with the ups and downs of marriage, while the reboot shows the couple, now older, deal with divorce. Or so Neena Gupta thinks.
The younger director on the show wants the story to have a more romantic, sexual angle, which to Gupta seems unnecessary in the divorce storyline. The studio heads are shown this pilot, and love it. The show will be a hit, they say, and of course, get them the ratings they want.
Gupta laments that the show made decades ago was far more progressive than this one.
Which leads us to a debate we have so often in Pakistan: why is it that television in Pakistan featured drama series with so many more interesting, relatable and progressive themes in the ‘80s and ‘90s than they do now? What changed?
Obviously, we know what changed. Hundreds of channels competing for eyeballs versus the one channel showing the one show at 8 p.m. clearly presents a challenge to production houses and channels. And to run either, sponsorships and collaborations are of the essence. To get the most, and the most coveted sponsorships and collabs, a series must have high ratings, and for that, said series has to have a narrative that appeals to a wide audience.
In Masaba Masaba, Neena Gupta pitches her show to Netflix, and in Pakistan, we often see shows like Churails, Mrs & Mr Shamim, Dhoop Ki Deewar etc. on OTT platforms rather than mainstream television.
OTT’s gain is television’s loss, as well as the audience’s. Those who cannot access these platforms for any reason lose out on original, intelligent content. TV channels may be raking in the profits, but at the cost of credibility, and definitely at the loss of certain audience segments. This might not break the channel, but we sure would love to see them pull up their socks and offer more competitive content.