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Masaba Masaba: Seeing The New Netflix Series Through Queer Eyes

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The new web series on Netflix based on the life of Masaba and Neena Gupta is like a fresh breath of air. However, the GenZ lifestyle has some Queerphobia and may pinch the queer eyes.

Masaba Masaba is a story of courage and hope. The mother-daughter duo Neena and Masaba Gupta play the fictionalized characters of themselves. The show is a fresh breath of air but amidst all the amazing things, it comes with a pinch of Homophobia. Just a pinch.

Masaba Masaba is the fictionalized biopic of Masaba Gupta and Neena Gupta (Sub Plot) and the struggle of the mother-daughter duo in their work and personal life. Masaba, the ace fashion designer, is struggling between her broken marriage, pressure from investors, a failed fashion show, and amidst all this, a battle to find herself. Neena in her Sixties wants to do all she has never done in her life,  which includes swimming, driving, to ink a tattoo, and to prove her worth in cinema again. “Age is just a number,” she says, and the song “Aunty kisko bola bey” is the apt representation of it.

The idea of someone unapologetically putting her life out in public and portraying the character herself is courageous. From the marriage separation of Masaba to the social media post of Neena Gupta seeking work in the industry, the series catches everything. The one scene that I thought brave enough is where Masaba confronts her mother, Neena, with a hint of her relationship with Viv Richards.

However, the best thing about the series is no matter how emotionally strong it might sound, the creators have ensured that the story is told in a lighthearted manner. The series is smooth and maintains a smile throughout (unless you are a queer or an ally). The performances are smooth and flawless. Its worth mentioning the acting of Masaba, she is a charm.

I watched the series just for Masaba and Neena Gupta as a big-time fan of both. Neena’s acting and Masaba’s fashion are, of course, things to love. But the cherry on the cake is the acting of Masaba. Everyone is wondering why she never tried acting as a career?

I don’t know whether this is sounding like a review or not because this is the first time I am writing a review of a series or a movie. Why am I writing this? I had a lot of hopes with the series knowing the Gen Z Masaba represents, and the woke culture the new generation projects. The series fulfilled some of my wishes like the unapologetic characters of Masaba and Neena Gupta. But this series failed measurably when you scrutinize the homophobia portrayed.

The portrayal of queer characters in the show might be for the reason that the makers wanted to show how woke they are, but the way it has been handled deserves criticism. Maybe the intentions were right, but then intentions are of no defence when it comes to queerphobia.

In a scene, Masaba video calls Jogi only to find out him on the bed with another man. Isn’t it cool? Seeing Jogi with his partner, Masaba makes a disgusting face like she wants to puke. In another scene, she spent the night at Jogi’s home, thinking he might be bi-sexual. The next morning leaving the house, Masaba sees the gay partner of Jogi in the hall sleeping on a couch. She runs from there again making a face as if she is about to throw up. As if she has seen a ghost or some creature which is not at all worthy of even a look. Isn’t it blatant homophobia?

In another scene, when Masaba and her husband are signing the sale agreement of the house, the new owners and a young couple arrive. The effeminate husband is a huge fan of Masaba. When they leave, Masaba tells her husband, “yeh toh pakka gay hai” (He is certainly a gay person). Stereotyping assumptions based on anyone’s appearance is queerphobia. Even all the fashion designers are shown as effeminate gays.  Firstly, not all fashion designers are gay; secondly, not all gay men are effeminate; and at last, even not all bottom gays are effeminate. Then why this stereotyping?

Is this something new? No, not at all. From society to Bollywood to these new-age web series, stereotyping queer people is nothing new;  instead, it is the norm. Then why am I writing about “Masaba Masaba” while I did not write about the utterly transphobic “Paatal Lok” or for that matter “Kapil Sharma Show” or for that matter any other movie or series? I am writing because I had hoped for this web series.

Masaba represents the new woke liberal generation and so do the makers of the series. Not giving a damn about the social attitude, the new age carefree mindset is evident in the series. That is why the homophobia pinches a lot. I never hoped the mainstream Indian entertainment industry would give any realistic representation of queer people, barring a handful of good movies, but I thought the new people coming to the industry will change it. In that sense, “Masaba Masaba” disappointed me.

As for the parting paragraph, I genuinely want to believe that the intentions of the makers were not wrong, and they just failed in sketching out the emotions on reels properly. I am an optimistic person and I genuinely want to believe this. And for the rest of you, minus these three instances the whole series is worth watching and a strong recommendation. We have ignored queerphobia in Bollywood for ages and recently in the name of representation, we got a caricature of the situation namely “Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan,” and we have been enjoying the “Kapil Sharma Show” for so long.

In comparison to these, “Masaba Masaba” has done no SIN.

Customary – 3.5/5 stars.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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