How Kareema Barry went from being social media influencer to Qayanaat in Masaba Masaba S2
It's not every Saturday night in Kolkata that sees a young Instagram influencer celebrating a Netflix India win. But on an August weekend, Kareema Barry was in SAZ – American Brasserie on Camac Street to celebrate “Cal Gal on Netflix” with “friends who have known me for longer than just three months”.
You’ve probably already spotted the Cal Gal in Season 2 of the Netflix show, Masaba Masaba, where she’s doing what she does best – embodying the zeitgeist as an Instagram starlet. On screen, Kareema plays Qayanaat, the Gen-Z social media fashion influencer who turns her nose up at veteran designer Masaba Gupta. As is true of our times, Qayanaat has “launched” a new fashion line on Instagram, and while social media goes wild about it, fashion editors and designers scramble to catch up with this unexpected way of doing things.
TT Online catches up with this rising star over a cuppa, in between biryani and vada pao.
Tell us how you landed the role in Masaba Masaba Season 2.
Kareema Barry: I auditioned for the role in July 2021, when the second wave was quite severe. I was isolating from my parents in Kolkata and sent in a video recording of the audition, where the brief was for “an edgy girl — influencer-turned-designer”. I self-shot the video. I didn’t have anyone to give me cues, and I didn’t think a voiceover was going to work, so I also played Masaba’s role and then entwined the two clips. So basically, I shot the whole scene.
They said they liked how creative that was and that no one had done that before. Turns out, Qayanaat wasn’t supposed to be as wacky as I made her out to be but actors are allowed to embody the characters they play, so they made tweaks according to my personality. Later, the styling also happened in Calcutta. They sent a large carton of clothes and the assistants sent pictures of how the outfits should look. They were reducing as many people as they could to fly into Bombay in the aftermath of Delta.
What was your first day on set like?
Kareema Barry: Acting is so very different from creating online content. In content, you’re breaking the fourth wall. And you’re usually shooting alone. On the sets of Masaba Masaba, I had to be really aware of what I’m doing and where the camera is. There are so many people watching you! The first scene I shot was the one with Masaba Gupta and Milind Soman (who is very charming, as you’d imagine!).
As someone who’s so comfortable in front of the camera, did you enjoy shooting?
Kareema Barry: So, I’ve never been to acting school but I really do like being in front of the camera. The director – Sonam Nair – sat me down in the van and said I could ask as many questions as I wanted to. For instance, I didn’t know what ‘continuity’ was… I realised later that I couldn’t rearrange the rings on my fingers because in the next shot it has to look exactly the same as the previous one!
And you have to be very conscious of the angle of your body, the position it was in and recreate that from the previous shot. In fact, they take pictures of everything so you can resume from exactly where we stopped. Also, everyone has their own way of getting into character. Sometimes, by the time they were calling ‘… Action!’ I’d still be catching up!
So, did you pick up tips from the others?
Kareema Barry: I noticed different things about different people — how they would prepare for a scene. For instance, Kusha (Masaba’s publicist, Nicole, played by Kusha Kapila) would do this breath thing. Rytasha (Masaba's best friend Gia is played by Rytasha Rathore) is also a theatre actor, so she was probably in character from the time of leaving the van. Theatre actors also have a way of throwing their voices, you know. As for Masaba, she’s simply stunning. I was just looking at how she moved, how she sat… I don’t even know how to really sit in a skirt! The only time we sat properly in school, with our legs crossed as we should, was during choir!
You must have been one of the youngest on set…
Kareema Barry: I was 22 years old when I shot Masaba Masaba; everyone was super warm. I also got lucky to have worked with so many women who are successful, nice and humble. I think I might have been spoilt for life. I’d already met Kusha, of course. She’s signed with the same agency as I am (Fetch India).
Kusha has always been particularly supportive of other women since she started at a time when not so many people were in the content creation space. Rytasha is also friends with my sister now. They used to do video calls and Rytasha would assure her she has my back. She’d take me out for dinner and yogic sound healing sessions.
Did you get to interact with Neena Gupta?
Kareema Barry: I only met Neena Gupta on the last day of shooting. I gave her a Kishore Kumar record from my dad, and she offered me poha in her van. She’s really the same, on and off camera. And then I met Neil Bhoopalam during the promotions. He looked at my watch and told me, “the seconds hand in Bombay goes at twice its speed but you don’t need to go at the same pace, and that’s fine”. I really did appreciate that.
What’s better in Mumbai than in Kolkata? What’s better in Kolkata than in Mumbai?
Kareema Barry: In Cal, you have to have a guy for everything you need! You always have to forge a personal relationship with everyone to get work done, while in most other cities you just use the internet and pay for services. But it’s also easier to just exist in Cal, you know. It’s definitely one of the most inclusive cities in the country. Also, sometimes I wake up with a headache in Bombay, with all the traffic noise. I mean, I live next to a lake at home, in Cal!
How do you unwind here?
Kareema Barry: Raj’s Spanish Cafe (on Sudder Street) is one of my favourite places to hang out in. Like most other places in Cal, it hasn’t changed at all over the years.
These days, when you’re not shooting you are…
Kareema Barry: Watching Breaking Bad and trying to learn how to cry on cue!
Why cry, in particular?
Kareema Barry: Well, I auditioned for a horror film and it was terrible. I had to have a breakdown on the spot, which I absolutely couldn’t. It was also an in-person audition, so there were no re-takes. It was a great experience, though.
So what would you like to spend more time on?
Kareema Barry: I would like to spend more time doing my own reels. But I’ve been shooting 20 hours straight for this other new thing, which I’ll tell you about later. And I’d like to spend more time writing.