A Suitable Boy Review: Lost in translation, but shines as a saga

Mira Nair’s A Suitable Boy, based on Vikram Seth’s 1993-novel of the same name, transports its audience to a world of its own

When the first look of Mira Nair’s A Suitable Boy released on social media, the netizens could not keep calm. After all, it’s not every day that Nair creates (screenplay by Andrew Davies) a series – that too adapting an iconic Indian novel. Vikram Seth’s 1993-classic, a novel set on post-independence India – explores life and love amid a politically charged up atmosphere. Being loved and appreciated widely, its adaptation is no easy task – that too, when one needs to fit a 1349-page novel into a six episode miniseries. But having said that, the series was not exactly ‘unsuitable’!

To summarise, A Suitable Boy is the story of a young girl Lata (Tanya Maniktala) – whose mother is desperately in search of a ‘suitable groom’ for her. But this main plot is surrounded by numerous other subplots. For instance, Lata’s brother-in-law Maan (Ishaan Khatter) and his forbidden love affair with an older courtesan Saeeda Bai (Tabu) – also forms an essential part of the storyline. But amid all this, themes like family issues, friendship, religious conflicts also surface. Being set in 1951-52, the series also throws lights on India as an independent nation at its nascent stage.

The storytelling is exquisite, if not extraordinary. Certainly it’s too much to expect six episodes to capture every element of the novel, but then it does attempt to. Though there might to too many stories running parallel, sometimes coinciding with each other, but it never feels like a chaos or clutter.

Each story takes its own course, and follows each character’s journey – both outward and inward. Coming to the ensemble – each actors have done complete justice to their roles – including those with miss-and-blink screen appearances. Debutant Tanya Maniktala, who plays Lata, exudes a rare confidence for a newcomer, and makes her vibrant presence felt every time she appears on screen.

Tanya Maniktala (left) as Lata makes her vibrant presence onscreen palpable

Ishaan Khatter as Maan – a young, impulsive, passionate man – lights up the screen with his intense presence and charm. He is definitely the show’s de-facto hero! Newcomers Danesh Razvi (who plays Kabir Durrani, Lata’s college sweetheart) and Mikhail Sen (who plays Amit Chatterjee, Lata’s suitor) also owned up their spaces like a pro. Actors like Tabu, Ram Kapoor, Vijay Varma, Namit Das, Rasika Dugal, Shahana Goswami, among others, were also brilliant! Each one gets into the skin of their characters perfectly.

A Suitable Boy’s music adds to the nostalgia, capturing human emotions at it best. The show’s original music has been composed by Golden Globe nominee Alex Heffes and Anoushka Shankar. The locations and costumes are also to the point, and manages to bring out the then India without fail.

But what the shows falters in is the language. Oftentimes, the dialect appears right out from a recitation session or a play. The choice of having English as its original language was probably done to cater this show to the white people, as it was primarily aired on BBC. But then, had it been in Hindi – the show might have looked and felt more real. This, probably, had been its biggest setback.

Apart from these, the show manages to portray an entertaining drama – which transports you to the 50s India. What make it relatable are the issues like religious conflicts, corruption that our country is still grappling with. Yet the families in the show – the Mehras, the Kapoors, the Khans and the Chatterjees – they somewhere fails to appear lifelike, and looks more like one from a play, but an exception being the dynamic between Maan and his father. The father-son conflict has been portrayed with finesse.

Also, of all the relationships depicted in the show, the one between Maan and his best friend Feroz (played by Shubham Saraf) — the one of trust, comfort and genuine bond– engraves in our heart. Who Lata chooses among her three suitors is not where the show’s climax wins us over, rather it’s the test of friendship that triumphs and makes our heart melt; it’s the scene where the graceful Saaeda Bai breaks into a song, longing for a lover or trying to forget one – makes our heart ache. A Suitable Boy may not be perfect, but it has its moments and that’s what makes it worth a watch!

 

  • A Suitable Boy is streaming on Netflix

(Cover: Ishaan Khatter and Tabu in A Suitable Boy //Credit: IMDB)

 

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