'Maska' review: Manisha Koirala headlines this light-hearted but thin film
There is nothing demeaning about making or watching feel-good cinema. But it becomes problematic when one notices the sheer lack of effort behind it: one then starts to doubt the sincerity behind the product. A similar fate meets Netflix's new offering Maska, headlined by terrific Manisha Koirala. The film is light-hearted and sweet, but also painfully bland and thin. Here is our review.
Maska is about the dilemma every young person is confronted with, i.e., whether to follow money or passion or something that one is good at, or as the film puts it- how to find your ikigai. Rumi Irani (Prit Kamani) is in a similar soup. His late father (Jaaved Jaaferi) left him an antique watch, a rusty bike, and a popular century-old Irani cafe.
Rumi's loving but plain-speaking mother (Manisha Koirala) wants him to takeover the cafe, as soon as he graduates. She dreams of him baking as lip-smaking bun maskas as his father Rustom would, back in the day. But Rumi isn't interested in the cafe, he wants to become an actor. He is so desperate that he plans to sell off the family legacy for it.
Maska isn't too ambitious, which is not the problem. It knows its limitations and it remains confined to them throughout. One thing that works well for the movie is that it's pretty relatable. At one point, Koirala's character, Diana, an arthritis patient, utters that her real condition is "son-thritis" and she "should get my son replaced". That's just the typical Indian mother for you.
Maska is light on the heart. For instance, when Rumi as a struggling actor, gives an audition whilst standing completely naked because, well, the scene is about an extra marital affair being exposed, he is genuinely funny. Justifying the act, Rumi says he is a "method actor". It is harmless fun - and we can all use a bit of that during these times.
But the problem here is that Maska remains an easy and convenient watch for far too long. It unfairly ignores its own subplots and never quite delves into the plausibly darker side of the story and the characters. The film then starts to feel a bit too bland and skin-deep. Plus, there are zero surprises on offer- it is just way too predictable.
For as long as it is able to travel, Manisha Koirala fuels this flailing film. With spot-on Parsi dress-up and dialect, Koirala is an Irani on the outside and the inside. As a concerned yet strict mother, the veteran is sweet and fierce, in equal proportions. At the end of the day, she's just your helplessly typical Indian mother. A joy to watch, nonetheless.
Prit Kamani as Rumi is a fine pick. It's not an easy task to purposefully act bad, but Kamani pulls it off in all the audition scenes surprisingly well. Further, Javed Jaffrey, who appears only as Rumi's imagination gets little screen time, because, of course, the character is dead. But he is a treat to witness in every frame he shows up.
Maska is also the first cinematic outing for Shirley Setia. And while the pop singer's Parsi dialect isn't too convincing and her expressions fumble every now and then, she has clearly made a genuine effort here. Watch her in the scene where she opens up to Rumi about losing a loved one - there, she is believable and subtle.
Much like its name, Maska is a fluffy product, all in all. The writing isn't sharp enough to hold your attention, but the performances won't disappoint you. And perhaps, one thing Maska unintentionally gets right is the timing of its release- in these times of mounting anxiety, you can watch this film, feel slightly better, then get back to work. Rating: 2.5/5 stars.