Cast: Manisha Koirala, Nikita Dutta, Shirley Setia
director: neeraj udhwani
rating: two and a half stars (out of 5)
Fluffy may be a desirable quality for a muffin waiting to be buttered and white creamed, but for a film seeking to chase away our lockdown blues, it can only serve a limited purpose. While there’s nothing overly unpleasant about maska, screenwriter neeraj udhwani’s directorial debut, the film isn’t brimming with irresistible delight, either.
Playing one of the pivotal roles, Manisha Koirala is effortlessly endearing. She goes to great lengths to stay on top of her character’s parsidiction, but a script that skims the surface of the medium in which she thrives kills her a bit.
maska lacks the seductive glow of a well-baked loaf of bread or the reassuring warmth a feel-good drama should have exuded about a boy reaching for the stars. the layer of butter on the bun, represented by a lively soundtrack, which sometimes steps forward, is unevenly distributed.
Streaming on netflix, maska stars manisha koirala as a widow who keeps the family’s ballard estate irani cafe running after the death of her husband rustom (jaaved jaffery). But the focal point of the story is the lady’s 19-year-old son Rumi (Prit Kamani) who has Bollywood aspirations. he has little interest in taking over from his mother and carrying on the legacy of several generations.
maska has one foot in diana’s home and workplace, the other in the world of aspiring actors struggling to break into the film industry and facing rejection from moviegoers. demanding casting directors. However, the film offers no real insight into either of the two domains that are integral to the city of mumbai, preferring a convenient “this far and no further” approach to exploring the struggles of the two main figures: one a woman determined to hold on to coffee and a teenager obsessed with chasing his starry dreams.
When Rumi admits that, like most Parsee men, he’s a mama’s boy, one can’t help but be put off by the blatant attempt at stereotyping. We soon realize that the young man does not know who Bahadur Shah Zafar is and believes that Talaffuz (pronunciation) is the Urdu word for “table”. but we are told that he has magic in his fingers. so it’s not hard to see why he might not be cut out for studio arc lights.
in one scene, during his first audition for a movie role, rumi appears naked to a stunned casting director (abhishek banerjee in cameo) because he is meant to be a lover who has been caught red-handed making out with the another man’s wife “I’m a method actor, sir,” he says coldly. Maska provides another brief glimpse of this irreverent spirit when Rumi is told by a producer that the movie they will soon be making together will be an honest effort, not Bollywood show-sha. but that’s about it the rest of maska is far from taking its control off the conventional.
The dead father of the male lead, whose inherited clothes are rumi’s birthday presents, is the narrator for a portion of the film. Then suddenly he starts showing up in person and giving rumi pep talks on matters related to the heart and libido. of course no one else can see it. the narrative device facilitating communication from beyond the grave is easily explained much later as something as normal as preparing a salli keema, something rumi is inherently adept at.
The inner world of the Parsi baker/chef community at the heart of the plot remains largely off limits in this mother-son relationship drama. Cafe Rustom, the 100-year-old restaurant whose cash desk is ‘staffed’ with infectious enthusiasm by Diana, doesn’t have the feel of living in a place that has been around since 1920, as the sign at the entrance advertises. >
The lady is obviously aging and days away from knee replacement surgery. when her son, despite the wise advice of his late father, not only decides to move away from home and move in with his girlfriend Mallika Chopra (Nikita Dutta), a Ludhian girl who has seen more of the world than rumi. She’s divorced, she’s split from her parents, and now she’s tantalizingly close to landing a leading role in a Hindi movie, provided she quickly finds a financier.
diana is understandably distressed. but she’s in no mood to sell the cafe and let her son turn his back on her family legacy. She strikes up a relationship with a young woman from her own town, Persis Mistry (Bollywood debutante Shirley Setia). the latter is working on a coffee table book about mumbai’s irani cafes and the matron throws all of her weight behind her wholeheartedly.
When Mallika is out for an outdoor photo shoot, an almost platonic bond develops between Rumi and Persis, who proceeds to expose him to the reasons why Rustom Cafe is worth fighting for. another thing is that the plot holds no surprises. What’s worse, it all becomes uncomfortably forced and predictable when Rumi stumbles upon the Japanese concept of ikagai (literally, “a reason for being”), searching for persis stories to reinforce his belief that Iranian browns They are a true storehouse of memories. .
his chats with persis help the boy discover a matchmaker who has had a 100 percent success rate with marriage negotiations conducted at the cafe, a railway clerk who never fails to stop by on his way back home, an elderly couple who have frequented the place since their first date there as teenagers, and a kitchen helper who came penniless to mumbai from uttar pradesh four decades ago and stayed to help rustom.
The bits and pieces of maska that work don’t ultimately come together to offer a convincing whole. prit kamani conveys the confusions of a teenager quite well. he is well supported by nikita dutta and shirley setia. but the cast, and this includes manisha koirala, is unable to break free from the formal and formal construction of the film and prepare a cinematic meal to savor.