Arts Illustrated

January 6, 2021

For Suitable Tastes

Mira Nair’s grace and panache allows the Netflix original limited series ‘A Suitable Boy’ to grow out of a stylized, poignant adaptation of Seth’s great, Indian novel

Mayur B. Hatibaruah

Set in the most vital decade in, post-partitioned India, the BBC adaptation, directed by the indie phenom, Mira Nair and adapted to screen by Andrew Davies, brings together an extraordinarily seasoned ensemble with the likes of Tabu, Ishaan Khatter and Ram Kapoor; with the promising introduction of Tanya Maniktala as Lata Mehra, who invariably does justice to the free spirited, literature ward who embarks on her journey to know herself. Our clever yet impressionable Lata is courted by a triad of supposedly ‘suitable’ boys in the eyes of many. These boys also represent the cultures of work, poetry and patience in their own domains, confusing Lata in myriad ways.

One just can’t look away from the poetic brilliance of the visuals, set in aristocratic Calcutta, as couples tango to western tunes and drink sherry and are taken by the likes of Donne and Schubert; but also, the stark imagery depicted in the countryside, where poverty reigns supreme as Hindu-Muslim conflicts rage on with equal tenacity, where ancient traditions remain intact. Language becomes of the essence, as Maan Kapoor, a young romantic learns Urdu in order to win the heart of Saeeda Begum (Tabu), a courtesan of great repute. Their socially unbecoming love sparks the story along with the buddy-cop friendship between Maan and the Nawab’s son, and the sacrifices and the grief within it. This is the sacred balance found amongst the communal riots, the historic Hindu-Muslim hatred, and the tug of war as new taste and practices are doused in antiquity and tradition.

The on-screen adaptation is made to please the hungry, meekly fed aesthete who can just revel in the eloquence of the few words of love that roll down Lata or Amit’s (another suitable boy, perhaps) tongue, as they lose themselves to the glitz and glamour of the hedonistic traces left by the British. In the bistros and bars where poetry is the common tongue, wine and music (the ghazals in particular) wind the scene; and in terms of production value, the miniseries is a delight to a quality seeking audience, both in terms of costumes and overall design. The dialogues have poignantly walked out of the original novel, and they rest on screen with clarity. Mira Nair and Davies do justice to the source code in visualising Brahmpur, the beautiful town in which the story of intertwined plotlines, duels for love, political rivalry and familial ties are set, all packed into an India of pre-inaugural democratic elections.

A solid watch for that literature and history geek, it insurmountably does a brilliant job in getting to the audience that will be introduced to a homegrown, highly applauded work of art, both on print and on the screen. A friend to a lover and a marriage to another, we are taken in by the tragic downfall, but a rising sea of bittersweet experience is what defines Vikram Seth’s magnum opus; and the adaptation simply reflects the mettle and majesty.

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All the stills from the limited series ‘A Suitable Boy’

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