A Suitable Boy

Rating :  ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️and a half

Categorisation: Period Drama

Availability: Netflix (BBC production)

Plot:  This new series is a BBC adaptation of Vikram Seth’s successful book A Suitable Boy, a monumental 1300 page novel that was controversial when it was published in 1993. Set in 1950s, it traces a year in the lives of four privileged families in post-partition India. So it tackles the issues of the period – the ugliness of religious conflict, political nationalism, and the role of women in Indian society. The series was produced by Mira Nair and Shimit Amin, but it’s Andrew Davies, a Welshman in his 80s writing the screenplay who gets to tell us the story. It follows the book’s main threads and, while various subplots are touched upon, two main strands carry the story along: the search for a suitable husband for nineteen year old Lata Mehra; and Maan Kapoor’s coming of age, from wayward son to more thoughtful adult. Through these two characters we gain insight into an Indian social milieu of women’s friendships, men’s friendships, and the romantic liaisons that are all shaped by cultural traditions and the political events of the time.

Cast: While some of the acting is a bit wooden, Lata, played by Tanya Maniktala, is terrific in the lead, as is Ishaan Khatter playing Maan, the irresponsible son of a government Minister. Both bring fresh spirit to the roles, even though it all feels very familiar in a Pride and Prejudice sort of way. Indeed, Lata’s mother Rupa Mehra (played by Mahira Kakkar) is a perfect Mrs Bennett as she hunts for a suitable son-in-law. There are a few other stand-out performances. Namit Das as Haresh Khanna, one of Lata’s three suitors, is particularly impressive in managing to portray the complexities of character, and Tabu is wonderful as the musician courtesan, Saeeda Bai. Her singing is quite beautiful.

Filming and setting:  This series is visually stunning, with magnificent buildings in urban centres contrasting with dusty rural settings, all capturing the amazing colours and beauty of India. The series is worth watching for this alone.

Personal Comments:  This a joyful rendition of Seth’s work. While we do get a sense of the political violence of the period, the drama focuses much more strongly on the relationships and concerns of the rich and advantaged people in society. The needs, concerns and lives of the less advantaged are glossed over, as is the devastating impact of a bloody Partition. This sits at the heart of the criticism of the anglo influence of the screenplay and some of the more obvious illustrations of this, for example, the use of English in preference to indigenous languages. On the other hand, all the important roles are played by Indian actors, and Seth’s book is generally seen an accurate representation of 1950s India. Apparently Seth was completely supportive of Davies. For all these contradictions, we found it to be a series that generates much reflective dialogue. So in the end, if you enjoyed the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, I think I you will probably enjoy this Indian equivalent. 

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3 Replies to “A Suitable Boy”

  1. Liked the analogy with Pride and Prejudice, noting that Gurinder Chadha made a Bollywood version of P & P which I also enjoyed. I agree that the story line was made for English audiences and those who had not read the book which is far more critical of the partition. Still relevant however with the rise of nationalism in India.

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