The pleasure of sinking your teeth into a soft bun smeared liberally with maska (butter) and sipping sweet chai, lounging in an Irani cafe, a fan whirring over you head, the checked table cloth, the dog eared menu cards, are memories many of us growing up in Bombay or Mumbai now, cherish.
The Irani cafes are now a crumbling legacy of a thriving Parsi cafe culture. Maska, Netflix’s upcoming Indian original is a tribute to that bygone era, where the handful of Irani Cafes struggle to survive as slick new coffee chains and fast food eateries take over the city scape.
So we are introduced to the Rustom Cafe in Ballard Estate, known for its famous bun-maska, on the cusp of its centenarian year, continues to survive despite the odds. Run by Diana Irani (Manisha Koirala), a widow who hopes her son Rumi (Prit Kamani) will carry forth the legacy of the family, especially that of his father – the late Rustom Irani (Javed Jaffery). But Rumi has other plans, he aspires to be a Bollywood star, than a maska-wallah, his phone cover screams “Destined for greatness stuck in Mundaneness”.
After winning a local pageant and being crowned ‘Mr Firozshah Bagh’, he enrols himself in an acting school, where he meets an ambitious divorcee Mallika Chopra (Nikita Dutta), who he describes as the real Maska to his Pav. As Mallika chides him for being tied to his ‘mamma’s apron strings’ when he should focus on his acting career. His mother, on the other hand, narrates the many sacrifices she has made and how the Cafe which has discontinued its signature dishes, needs Rumi’s hands to create culinary magic.
Rumi, who imagines talking to his father’s spirit whenever he needs clarity, is adamant to be an actor, whilst his father says his mother will not understand his aspiration or accept his non Parsi girlfriend, “there is a probability of Kim Jong liking Trump than Diana accepting Malika, says Rustom Irani’s ghost to his son. In the mean, we are introduced to a blogger, Persis (Shirley Setia), who was ‘Miss Ferozshah Bagh’ to Rumi’s Mr, she is chronicling the many Irani Cafe’s of Mumbai and befriends Rumi.
However, Rumi is so consumed with getting a big break will go to any lengths even if it means to sell the cafe, which is further fuelled by Mallika landing a plump role. A visit from his father’s ghost tells him it’s not a cafe it’s an emotion and on the other hand Persis tries to make him understand how the Irani cafe’s broke through social barriers and religious taboos, bringing people together. How there were stories in that cafe, each patron, each table, every piece of furniture had a story to narrate.
So between Rumi, who is a believer in the law of attraction and is shown imagining his dream of one day winning the Filmfare Award. As he is turned away from one audition to another and Persis tries to make him understand his Ikagai, his reason for being may not be acting after all.
Manisha Koirala as Diana Irani does a fine job, but I still can’t wrap my head around her being in a greying wig and plying mom. Pratik Kemani as Rumi is convincing and brings forth his character’s confusion and dilemma as he is caught between mother and girlfriend, his reality and dreams. Nikita Dutta tries too hard in some scenes, Shirley Setia a ‘youtuber’ and singer who makes her debut with the film is refreshing and has a spunk in her. Just wish there was more of Javed Jaffery, kind of missed his one-liners.
Maska streams on Netflix on 27th march, the film is a simple story, addressing the issue of how legacy and heritage is abandoned in the face of modernity in this fast paced world. Days gone by, memories and stories which the cafe stands testament too, everything old need not be discarded.