A Suitable Boy is a miniseries based on the 1993 novel by Vikram Seth of the same name. It is the first BBC historical drama with a cast completely featuring people of colour. Mira Nair has directed this adaptation by Andrew Davies. It stars Tabu, Ishaan Khatter, Tanya Maniktala, Ram Kapoor and Rasika Dugal in lead roles.
Set in post-partition India the series follows the life of two families, the Mehras and the Kapoors. Lata Mehra, a 19 year old college student is next in line for marriage. She is forced to choose between Kabir, Haresh and Amit as various relatives push their preferred suitor as the “suitable boy” for her. Mahesh Kapoor is a Revenue Minister in the Purva Pradesh Government. He has just passed the Zamindari bill in favour of the farmers which puts him at odds with the landlords. His son Maan, however, does not want to follow in his political footsteps. To add to his woes, Maan becomes infatuated with a courtesan who is much older than he is.
The novel is often called India’s answer to Pride and Prejudice but unlike the latter it is set against the backdrop of political tensions. A parallel that can be drawn between the two is their heroines (and their overbearing mothers). Elizabeth Bennet and Lata Mehra are both charming young women. They come equipped with snarky one liners and want to be independent in their respective lives. Their mothers however wish to marry them off to a suitable match as soon as possible. After all it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Lata’s choices are narrowed down to three suitors Kabir, Haresh and Amit. Each appealing in their own way. And thus begins her coming of age story.
Tanya Maniktala is pleasant as Lata. She wears a darling smile on her face. Constantly. Although cute at first it gets boring quickly as you struggle to understand what she is actually feeling at the moment. Her suitors Kabir (Danesh Rizvi) and Haresh (Namit Das) are far more compelling than her.
Maan, played by Ishaan Khatter is rebellious in his own way. In his quest to find love he falls for a popular singer and courtesan Saeeda Bai. His muse, played by the very reliable Tabu is much older than him and is probably the only one who is able to pull off the english dialogues in this context without taking you completely out of the scene.
Maan and Lata are perhaps metaphors for India post colonial times. Maan is passionate but broken. Lata is ambitious but marred by an uncertain future. While the series is set against the backdrop of post partition India, the political and religious tensions are never really discussed with the sincerity they deserve. The adaptation feels inauthentic when it lets go of the subtleties of the novel.
Adapting a novel for the visual media is no joke. Vikram Seth’s novel spanning over 1349 pages is palpably a mammoth task. Andrew Davies has done a great job for the most part. The series however is devoid of any subtext. The characters appear to be speaking at each other and narrating their feelings instead of experiencing them. The show also does not seem to be consistent with the history as far as the clothing and the language is concerned.
The series also suffers from the same problem as many other web dramas. Too many subplots, most of which fail to pique your interest. Randeep Hooda and the talk of recent times Vijay Verma appear in roles teetering on the edge of guest appearances. I would never complain about Randeep Hooda taking off his shirt but surely that was not all they brought him in to do.
The worst offender though is the use of English. At best it is cinematic liberty and at worst it is a result of colonial hangover. Irony is laughing in the corner. After quietly suffering through two episodes I promptly changed the settings to Hindi and found my experience greatly alleviated. I suggest you do the same and while you’re at it increase the playback speed to 1.5x.
A Suitable Boy is available to watch on Netflix.