On watching Netflix's Maska, if you feel nostalgic about Irani cafes in South Bombay, dipping a creamy and crumbly bun-maska into a cup of hot cutting chai, and simpler times, that will be a job well done on the film's part. Nostalgia and memories about food are the kind of hopeful thoughts we need in these current trying times. For its intent, Maska gets full marks. Unfortunately, as a film worth your time " among so many other watching options " I cannot recommend Maska.
The Netflix film starring Manisha Koilara, Prit Khamani, Javed Jaffrey, Shirley Sethia among others, is a typical Bollywood film, with typical Bollywood conflicts, but set in the Parsi community.
An Irani cafe called Cafe Rustom is crumbling under the pressure of modern-day coffee-shop culture. Its former owner, Rustom (Javed Jaffrey) is long gone; his wife Diana and son Rumi now run the battered cafe that desperately needs a revival. Diana hopes that Rumi will take over operations after he passes out of college, but he has plans of his own. Rumi wants to become an actor and shacks up with a struggling actress, who, much to his mother's distress, is Punjabi and a divorcee (cue gasps). Nikita Dutta (who plays Rumi's girlfriend Mallika Chopra) does the struggling actor representation quite well, but her character is given the shorter end of the stick.
Shirley Sethia plays Persis, the moral centre of the film, who is working on a coffee table book on Irani cafes. She acts as a direct contrast to Rumi, who wants to sell the cafe to a coffee-shop chain called Grinder's Cafe, in order to fund his first feature film. This leads to a shouting match between mother and son, and a subsequent falling out. But at the brink of the sale, Rumi comes to his senses and understands the legacy of his cafe and his culture. Cue patch-up and happy ending. All is well in the Parsi community.
While it's always a pleasure to watch Manisha Koirala on screen, the effort in her Parsi accent shows, and she is reduced to dramatic dialogues and outdated conflicts courtesy the bland writing in the film. She's almost wasted in a caricaturish part. Prit Khamani and Shirley Sethia have the requisite chocolate boy and girl vibe needed to entice younger audiences but their acting seems forced and one-tone. The only saving grace in this ensemble is the ever-reliable Javed Jaffrey, whose comic timing can wake up a dead person. (Literally). (Okay, you need to watch the film to get that joke).
Too much time in the film is spent on Rumi's arc as a character, for a film about a food and nostalgia. If that screen time would have been dispersed into the nostalgia of Irani cafes, a back story about Manisha Koirala and Javed Jaffrey's journey as a young Parsi couple in the 70s and 80s, and a lot more food shots, it would have elevated Maska. The film >is called Maska, after all; and not Rumi Ke Ruminations. (Last one, I promise.)
If only writer-director Neeraj Udhwani had focused less on "it's all about loving your family" and more on "it's all about lip-smacking bun-maska", Maska would have been a lot more watchable. However, since we're in isolation, you can give Maska a shot. It's a short film, thankfully.