BBC One’s all Asian cast drama, A Suitable Boy, made me smile the moment I glanced at the trailer.
No, I was not only enchanted by Tabu (well, she is the major reason I ended up watching the show) but by Tanya Maniktala as well, who is beautiful and charming, despite not being the picture-perfect Lata from Vikram Seth’s book.
A post-partition outlook of newly independent and sovereign India, Vikram Seth’s depicted the nuances of the political and social aspects of the country in the 1300 page novel of his, A Suitable Boy, which has morphed into the TV series. A coming of age story about love, heartbreak, politics and social justice, the series covers the intricacies of the lives of four families in the cities of Calcutta and Brahmpur.
The story of the six-part series, A Suitable Boy follows the quest of Rupa Mehra to find a suitable boy (you guessed the reasoning behind the name) to get her daughter, Lata, married to. The show begins with Lata’s elder sister getting married off, and her mother, Rupa asking her to follow suit.
Marriage is a pretty huge deal to us Desi women. Most women are looking for their daughters to get married and move out of their houses. However, Vikram Seth’s novel, set almost 70 years back is still relevant in modern-day India. And, at least Lata’s mom is asking for Lata’s consent on the matter, most Indian women are usually married off non-consensually.
Talking about the Austenesque Lata out here, her character was based on Elizabeth Bennet, with equivalent wit, charm and beauty, in the book she was the picture-perfect character to look up to. But I feel Lata from the show doesn’t remind me of Elizabeth’s resilience. Lacking this trait makes my heart sink because otherwise, the show is excellent.
The striking beauty of the aristocratic middle class in India, right after India became independent makes my heart ache. As an Indian, I have heard and seen the trauma and the despicable acts inflicted by the British. My family has lived through the Bengal partition, with my great-great grandfather’s relics of those Indian National Congress times having been passed down to us.
This, however, hasn’t been portrayed in this particular television show. There is struggle between the Hindus and the Muslims in relation to the building of temples and mosques, but there is little mention of the deeds of the British. The elaborateness of the Hindu-Muslim relationships portrayed in the show are relevant even today. As of yet, Indian political parties still bank on religion for Vote-bank politics, and Hindutva Nationalism is growing every goddamn day. However, I wish I could have seen the struggle after the British left as well, because Hindu-Muslim division didn’t destroy our country, the British colonial looting and plundering did.
Granted there is a lot of difference between the book and the series, A Suitable Boy will still charm you with the cute romantic tenderness between Kabir and Lata, and the magnificence of Tabu’s acting. Ah Tabu! The whole tenderness between Ishaan Khatter’s younger Maan (the son of the Revenue Minister) and the older Saeeda Bai played by Tabu is heartbreakingly beautiful. Music and passion heat things up between them.
The entire show is in English which is understandable because of the British-based audience in spite of the Indian cast. However, my one complaint would be the over-exaggeration of the “Brown” accent which the actors have to deliberately speak in. This stereotyped version of the way we talk has been used repeatedly throughout the show. The actors go out of their way to speak in the “Indian” accent even though most men were educated from Britain at that point of time and had better oratory skills than frankly the British themselves. However, the slight utilization of Hindi/Urdu and Bengali in certain areas make my heart skip a beat. Saeeda Bai, who plays an infamous singer, sings like a nightingale, and her Urdu chants are literally music to the tired ears.
The finesse and the aesthetics of the show are wonderful. However, the romance is over-exaggerated. Frankly, Indians are prudish and you can’t make out in the middle of the street in India. Since I still can’t even make out properly in dark theaters, to imagine kissing in public in the 1951 setting is honestly bewildering. Again, the Indians portrayed are more akin to what the European audience perceives us to be when we aren’t.
Nonetheless, there’s scandal embedded within the light-heartedness of the show. The unacceptability of love blossoming between Hindus and Muslims (that is however similar in modern-day society), the boldness of post-independent Indian Land Reform laws, the acts of heinousness and misogyny of the Hindu royalty have unfathomable grasp and complexity.
It’s a pleasurable watch, and really aesthetically pleasing to the eyes. Again, I am extremely proud to see an entire Brown cast being portrayed in a British television show.
The setting of A Suitable Boy is beautiful, the characters are wonderfully portrayed by the various actors and actresses. Tabu and Ishaan Khatter’s chemistry makes me ache for love and romance when I personal am anything but a romantic. The outfits of Bengali aristocracy are marvellous; the heritage explained from the perspective of the upper-middle class is frankly even new to me. The portrayal of Bengali women is somehow questionable in today’s setting but however, according to Seth’s book rings true.
Thus, give A Suitable Boy a watch. It is indeed addictive. Perhaps not entirely as Indian, as an Indian can hope it to be, it is fun with the right amount of seriousness. And even if the show doesn’t, Tabu alone will make you fall in love!
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