It took almost 3 days for me to complete the new Netflix limited series (originally made for BBC), A Suitable Boy directed by Mira Nair. No, it wasn’t my inability to find time to watch this series that caused the delay. The language and a major chunk of the characters in the series were so caricaturish that it made me cringe to a level where I paused an episode in the middle and resumed it after a couple of hours. The screenplay is visibly struggling to accommodate the enormous pool of characters in the story. And thus we just don’t get to feel the depth of the events and it was those sporadic moments of warmth in the story that helped the series to keep the viewer engaged with the material.
The title of the book and the series is A Suitable Boy. It is set in the year 1951 in the backdrop of the newly independent India preparing for its very first election. Rupa Mehra, an extremely conservative Indian mother is in search of a suitable boy for her daughter Lata Mehra. Lata, who is pursuing her degree in literature, is a bit confused about this selection process. The Mehra’s are connected to the Kapoors as Lata’s elder sister was married to that family. Maan Kapoor, the youngest one in the Kapoor family is also going through a puzzling time in understanding love as he falls for a courtesan named Saeeda Bai. In a way, A Suitable Boy is Lata’s journey to find the perfect guy in the backdrop of a politically tensed India which we get to know through Maan’s character arc.
I haven’t read the book written by Vikram Seth and from what I know this book had almost 1500 pages. To be honest, this information about the number of pages, sort of answered my recurring query on why there was hardly any depth in this series that lasts around 6 hours. We are supposed to believe that an intense bond has been created between Saeeda Bai and Maan in the very first episode of the series itself. But all we get to see is him being mesmerized by her graceful singing at a family event one night. The story is skipping through events in a rush and by the time characters act dramatically to situations, we as an audience are yet to get into that patch.
If you look at the story and those dramatic moments, the idea sounds pretty fascinating. I am pretty sure even a one-line summary of the script would have had a minimum of 10 pages. We have on one hand a girl confused about picking her future husband. She loves somebody, but he is a Muslim. Her mother suggested someone, but he acts a bit too seriously at times. There is her sister-in-law’s brother whom she can’t take seriously. And on the other hand, we have the Kapoors’ perspective that deals with the concept of love, the communal tension in India, the land reformation act, etc. The canvas is huge and I might get some supporters if I say that this should have been a series with two or three seasons.
This show was primarily made for BBC and it got aired from July to August of this year. So the problem is that we are listening to Indians speaking to each other in English. It is understandable to an extent and they have Hindi dialogues as well. But what is glaringly annoying is the tone of those dialogues. It almost feels like a literal translation of a Hindi dialogue and sometimes the detailing would make you feel that they had written it for a radio play. Only a few actors were able to pull off their characters with realness in the portrayal. The rest of them was making their characters look excessively naïve or weird.
With the help of grand production design and scenic locations, Mira Nair manages to create that vintage vibe for the whole series. There is a sense of calmness to the way she films the sequences. She gives enough time for you to register the whole environment. But this registering of characters is not really happening in the case of the script written by Andrew Davies. Maan’s obsession with Saeeda Bai has a major role in the development of the whole story and I don’t really feel the script was emphasizing much on that. Lata’s track was also a bit confusing in terms of its texture. I found myself looking at it wondering whether this was a satiric take or an emotional take on the whole arranged marriage idea. And there are so many characters that are forgotten or ignored after a point.
Tanya Maniktala, the new face has played the role of the crucial character Lata in this series. Lata of A Suitable Boy is a progressive woman who dares to question stuff in a very innocent and honest way. Thus she comes across as a very attractive persona and the charming portrayal of Lata by Tanya was lovely to watch. Ishaan Khatter plays the role of Maan here and he has convincingly pulled off the eventful traversal of the character. Then there is Ram Kapoor who is the earnest politician going through personal tragedies. He and Rasika Dugal were perhaps the only two actors who managed to reduce the awkwardness created by the language in scenes.
Tabu plays the role of Saeeda Bai here and the discretely appearing character was safe in her hands. Mahira Kakkar as the cartoonish Indian mother was way too loud to even consider as comical. Mikhail Sen, Namit Das, and Danesh Razvi are playing the love interests of Lata and sadly they were all doing it in that eccentric manner in which we get to see many other characters behave in this series.
I wouldn’t say it has not moved me at all. Deep inside we all love the cheesy romantic idea and the climax is somewhat a Bollywood movie moment for all to smile. The production design and the visual scale of the series are appreciable when you analyze it meticulously. But the first and foremost thing to make sure in the storytelling of this scale is to ensure the depth and in that department, this series fails due to its hurried structure. And if you are a native Indian, the language and characterizations will be a major annoyance.
The first and foremost thing to make sure in the storytelling of this scale is to ensure the depth and in that department, A Suitable Boy fails due to its hurried structure.
Green: Recommended Film
Orange: Okay, Watchable, Experimental Films
Red: Not Recommended