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A Suitable Boy: A visual delight worthy of Mira Nair’s name

  • Published at 05:32 pm November 21st, 2020
A Suitable Boy
A scene from A Suitable Boy

Mira Nair pulled out all the stops while casting for this production, and the resulting show is as savoury as any other top ranking Netflix number

Honestly, I have not read Vikram Seth’s novel, A Suitable Boy. Therefore, it was easy for me to watch Mira Nair’s adaptation of the novel for Netflix with an open mind. I know my opinion is not worth much but my two cents on this miniseries is that it is visually mesmerizing. It is a six-episode miniseries and each of the episodes is a visual delight, worthy of Mira Nair’s name.

I am a big fan of Mira Nair and I love her work because I have always felt that she does proper justice to characters conceived with Indian-subcontinent origin. A big example of her authentic representation of Indian culture can be found in the film, The Namesake

However, what makes A Suitable Boy by Mira Nair a suitable show to watch in the lull of this pandemic’s second wave? The star-studded cast of course! Mira Nair pulled out all the stops while casting for this production, and the resulting show is as savoury as any other top ranking Netflix number. 

The star-studded cast

The on-screen chemistry between Tabu as Saeeda Bai and Ishaan Khatter as Maan Kapoor is smouldering to watch. Tabu also gave a memorable performance in Mira Nair’s The Namesake. And Ishaan Khatter, the half-brother of Shahid Kapoor, is definitely going to be an actor to watch out for in the coming years. His portrayal of Maan was so energetic, that I wonder if I would ever be able to watch another adaptation of A Suitable Boy with an open mind.

The casting of the protagonist Lata (Tanya Maniktala) and her mother Mrs Rupa Mehra (Mahira Kakkar) was so well done; that I thought the actors might be related somehow. “Lata really looks like her mother Rupa” as any “all-knowing” Indian-Bangladeshi grandmother would say if these characters were performing live in front of her. The performance given by both actors in their respective roles will easily make the viewer forget that these characters are fictional and belong to a novel.

The suitors of the protagonist Lata and her mother

Ram Kapoor as Mahesh Kapoor – the character of an honest politician – looked at home in this series. I first got familiar with him in Indian TV serials and I did not think much of him then. After his item numbers with Sunny Leone, I thought he is probably not getting much opportunity in films. In this production, Ram Kapoor delivers such a memorable performance, that I think we are yet to see a lot more memorable characters by him in the future. Ram Kapoor gave such a performance that one might be tempted to think that Vikram Seth wrote the character of Mahesh Kapoor just for him.

Shahana Goswami as Meenakshi Mehra and Vivek Gomber as Arun Mehra are the real show-stealers of this production in my opinion. Their characters were meant to be cunning and conniving and the actors did justice to the roles with necessary charisma.

Please also look closely at the performances of Namit Das as Haresh Khanna, Danesh Razvi as Kabir Durrani, Vivaan Shah as Varun Mehra, Vijay Varma as Rasheed, and Mansi Multani as Kalpana Gaur. Among them Namit’s Haresh is the kind of suitable boy I personally aspire to be. And Mansi’s Kalpana will win many hearts among all who will watch this production.

Randeep Hooda and Vinay Pathak appear in almost cameo-esque roles and do make their appearances memorable with their experienced talent. 

The setting and themes

The cast and the acting are not the only reasons for which I recommend this show. The setting of the story and themes depicted in that setting are also very savoury to watch. 

The setting of the show is in post-partition India, where Hindu-Muslim riots and fights happen almost as regularly as the respective religious celebrations from each religious community. You could think that a post-partition story set in India is not very relevant to you in Bangladesh. But if you follow any news you should be aware that even in this year, we have seen temples vandalized by extremist Muslims during Durga puja celebration. 

The ways in which riots and sudden rackets start during religious celebrations are viscerally depicted in one episode of this series. You will also see the realistic hatred of an extremist mob. 

You will see corrupt and egotistical politicians. You will see perverse Rajas and heartless Zamindars. Such is the post-colonial setting of A Suitable Boy.

Tabu and Ishaan Khatter in A Suitable Boy

As for themes, the struggle of finding a suitable match by a single mother for her youngest daughter is the main storyline of the miniseries, and therefore each hour-long episode is ripe with themes of the feminist movement. Lata Mehra the protagonist almost gets raped by an uncle in one of the episodes. The uncle is actually a paedophile and it is implied that he has molested his own daughter for years. 

Furthermore, Lata’s mother is obsessed with finding a suitable man for her daughter, who herself is not so interested in marriage. This obsession of mothers for marrying off a grown daughter, to stop any gossip from society, is prevalent in Bangladesh’s society even in 2020. The mother also frequently complains of how different it would have been, if her husband was still alive. Something I have heard my own mother say in spite of her being a fully independent woman.

Each of the families depicted in the story come from affluence, as it is easily discernible from the dialects and accents of English spoken by the characters, and the posh mannerisms exhibited by them. This miniseries is a BBC One production; so, naturally English is the main language spoken. However, the overt fascination for British accents and customs by some of the characters represent the post-colonial nature of the plot. The balls frequented by the character Meenakshi and her husband symbolize how some elite Indian families still miss the British empire and hold everything British as of highest value.

Then there is also the theme of the self-made Indian men like Haresh Khanna and rebellious men like Maan Kapoor. There is also the age-old trope of Indian politicians being shamed by their scandalous sons. And scandalous skeletons can be found in the closets of rich families who befriend such politicians. 

Definitely the themes explored in this miniseries are as savoury as any post-colonial novel. My interest has definitely piqued for the novel after watching the series, and I will read it soon. For those who find reading boring, please give A Suitable Boy a chance. You might just like it!

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