By Pranjali Wakde
More than finding the ‘Suitable Boy’ – the series promises to take us back in time to witness love, politics and more.
Except for avid readers, everyone else would agree that watching a six-episode series is more preferable than reading 1350 pages of a novel. Many such novels have been adapted into beautiful miniseries, right from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ to the popular ‘Game of Thrones’. One more novel – and that too, from an Indian author – has recently been added to this list. Vikram Seth’s 1983 novel, ‘A Suitable Boy’, was adapted into a BBC Television Drama Miniseries. Written and directed by Andrew Davies and Mira Nair respectively, the series was made available on Netflix on 23rd October 2020.
The first thing that could grab all your attention is the language, as characters could be observed conversing in English that seemed pretty unexpected. It felt like a huge deviation from the usual approach of the Indian web series and albeit an unsettling one. It is understandable, as it was primarily created for a non-Indian audience with BBC being the network. Fortunately, as the series progresses, I come to fall in love with their English conversations, whether it is Lata’s poetic, dreamy phrases, Meenakshi’s exaggeratedly sultry dialogues or Haresh’s awkward but pragmatic talk.
Set in Brahmpur, a fictional town in India after Independence, are the stories of Lata Mehra (Tanya Maniktala) and Maan Kapoor (Ishaan Khatter), the protagonists. Before you think they are the endgame, let me stop you right there – because there are not each other’s love interests. This twist is so interesting and refreshing to see because they had so many chances to turn them into Prem & Nisha, but they didn’t. Their narrative starts with Lata’s sister, Savita (Rasika Dugal) getting married to Maan’s brother, Pran. Right since the start, Lata’s mother is seen pestering her to get ready – whether it’s for getting dressed or agreeing to an arranged marriage (We all know it’s the latter – foreshadowing, you know).
Lata is then forced to choose a ‘suitable boy’, while she’s busy studying English Literature and falling in love with Kabir (Danesh Razvi), while Maan, the brat of Kapoor khandaan, is enchanted by Saeeda Bai (Tabu), the seductive courtesan. The latter’s actions are viewed as disastrous, as his father is Mahesh Kapoor (Ram Kapoor), the State Minister of Revenue. Lata’s emotional roller coaster meshes surprisingly well with Maan’s carefree and devil-may-care actions, providing a balance to the narrative of numerous plots.
The story is almost as same as in the novel, with a few certain changes which can be labelled as creative liberty. It tugs at the hearts of many themes, right from complex human relationships, emotions and traditions, woven in front of a hostile political backdrop. Portrayals of politics and Hindu nationalism makes up this backdrop and it would be an understatement to say it was fairly realistic. The way to equality, as we can see in Mahesh Kapoor’s struggles, is filled with thorns. However, sprinkle the petals of friendship and the way will be bearable. That’s what we get from Maan and Firoz’s friendship. I found their bond to be a beautiful one, with unexplained queer undertones; a transcendental, refreshing addition to the narrative.
The scenes and colours are time-appropriate – we get transported back to their times, right in the middle of the action. We are there, right by their side, to feel the emotions, including Saeeda’s beautiful songs, Maan’s guilt and horror at stabbing his best friend and even Rasheed’s last heartbreaking letter to Tasneem. This was achieved by not only commendable writing but also excellent star cast. While Tabu and Ishaan Khatter are getting their much-deserved praise, it is Tanya Maniktala’s Lata who steals the show, in my opinion. With her expressive doe-like eyes, sweet smile and flawless acting, her Lata settle right into the audience’s hearts.
Lata studying English literature gives a poetic and Western undercurrent to the show, acting as a gentle reminder of what the British left behind. And when we see Lata caught between her three suitors – a history student, a poet and a shoemaker – her dilemma is something all girls can completely relate to. We can never blame her for being stuck on Kabir (”I do, I’ve never stopped loving you. But I can’t give up my family. I can’t give up my mother.”) – because no one really completely gets over their first love.
With more than a thousand pages fit together into 6-episodes beautifully, ‘A Suitable Boy’ is a heart-touching story of post-Independence India, where personal and political intermingle like the weave of fine cloth. The episodes are, admittedly, not made for binge-watching, but you can still achieve that, (just like I did). And if Danesh Razvi’s post is true, we’ll soon be blessed with Season 2, ready to binge-watch!