Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’, arguably one of the largest single-volume novel in English literature. In a nutshell, it’s about a women’s journey to find a suitable groom for herself. Set during 1951-52, when a recently independent India was gearing up for its first-ever general elections, ‘A Suitable Boy’ is the story of two families – The Kapoors and The Mehras, with other families linked to them via marriage and other relationships. Often compared to Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ for its vastness and similar treatment of five families, ‘A Suitable Boy’ is one of the most read and profound literature of modern India. So when Mira Nair chose to do a six-part mini-series, out of this 1400 odd paged novel, it became really interesting to see the end product, especially how she does justice to the original content material. Well, the readers will be delighted to know, that ‘A Suitable Boy’ mini-series is a stupendous success.
Putting the book into a TV series is a difficult task. But that doesn’t rob the audience the experience of a saga, the book eventually is. While misfortunes play a part in each family, it’s the choices of the individual characters that drive the story forward. The transformation of Maan Kapoor from a careless brat to a man tormented by his destiny is a major focal point of the novel. Similarly, the central protagonist Lata, as she meets three different suitors, she realises that life, perhaps doesn’t only need love for stability, it also requires an opportunity to grow together with the partner. The story is set in a country that is recently independent. But the caste divide and discrimination based on religion still rules the heartlands of the nation. In a much amusing parallel track, there is a growing disconcert between the Chatterjees and the Mehras. Lata Mehra doesn’t want her daughter to get married to a Bengali because of her frivolous Bengali daughter-in-law Minakshi who she thinks very low of. On the contrary, Minakshi along with her husband Arun does not approve of Haresh, one of Lata’s suitor, because he is a foreman at a shoe factory and apparently not worthy of their societal strata. Mira very effectively portrays Vikram’s vision on-screen and her actors perform with much gusto.
Those who’ve read the book, they would agree that in those 1400 pages, the author Vikram Seth vividly portrays the socio-economic fabric of the times, in which the novel has been set. He paints the picture of an India, who has recently broken its shackles from the British rule, yet it’s still entangled in the maze of its own set of ideologies and customs. It talks about casteism, the divide of class in every stratum of life, state-sponsored violence, politics, the feud in the families and eventually love. Mira Nair takes each of these and fits them into an episode, each running close to an hour. To be honest, it would’ve done wonders as a ten-part series as opposed to the current six-episode series. At times, it does feel that the events which happen organically in the novel, is enforced on the Mehras and the Kapoors in the TV series, as a series of misfortunes happen one after the other. But nevertheless, it’s a riveting watch with perhaps one of the great ensemble of actors in work.
Speaking about actors, Mira chooses her actors carefully. Each of them portrays their roles delicately and well nuanced, thus giving the glimpse of Vikram Seth’s characters in flesh and blood. Among the actors who stand out in their individual performances are Tanya Maniktala, Mahira Kakkar, Vivek Gomber, Ishaan Khattar, Ram Kapoor, Geeta Agrawal Sharma, Shubham Saraf, Namit Das, Danesh Rizvi, Mikhail Sen. Each of these actors perform their hearts out in their respective characters. Tanya is radiant as Lata. As the girl caught three-way between love, infatuation and levelheadedness, she is brilliant. Namit Das, Danesh Rizvi and Mikhail Sen play the three suitors to Lata. Each in their unique way represents the predicaments that Lata goes through. Mahira Kakkar plays Rupa Mehra, Lata’s mum, a character that can drive you crazy with her eccentricities about finding the right man for her daughter. But standing in her shoes, one can totally understand what makes her so worried about her daughter. Vivek Gomber plays her eldest son, the snobbish Arun Mehra, who thinks India was much better under the British. It’s fun to watch him go all out, after a sombre act in ‘Sir’ (2018).
From the family of the Mehras, Ishaan Khattar, Ram Kapoor and Geetika Agrawal Sharma perform admirably. Ishaan Khatter as the mercurial Maan who’s always at loggerheads with his father Mahesh Kapoor, played by Ram Kapoor, does exceedingly well. Ram, a seasoned actor on the small screen, showcases a never seen side of his, that comes out really well. Geetika plays his wife, a woman who’s caught between her love for her son and the duty towards the family. In fact, Mira’s primary actors do so well, that one barely misses the more famous ones, who do the heavy lifting, remaining on the sidelines. The Mira Nair regular, the effervescent Tabu plays Saeeda Bai, a courtesan whose palace becomes the epicentre of all chaos. And when Tabu is around, she lights up the screen with her performance alone. The very talented Sahana Goswami plays Minakshi, the catty and much promiscuous wife of Arun Mehra who’s having an affair with the flamboyant Billy Irani, played by Randeep Hooda, another Mira Nair regular. The dynamic Vijay duos, Vijay Raaz and Vijay Verma play the diametrically opposite father and son. Ranvir Shorey plays Rashid, the trusted lieutenant to Nawab Saheb. Manoj Pahwa plays the Raja of ‘Marh’, Vinay Pathak plays minister Agarwal, Vivaan Shah plays Varun Mehra and Aamir Bashir plays Nawab Saheb. By getting this glittering star cast, Mira manages to pull a coup d’état.
Watch ‘A Suitable Boy’ to see how love can push boundaries. And then read the novel to get the complete experience of the old world charm of cities like Calcutta, Lucknow and Benaras. Honestly if this miniseries revives people’s interest in revisiting the novel, then nothing like it.
All six episodes of ‘A Suitable Boy’ is now streaming on BBC iPlayer. For viewers outside the UK, a VPN connection can be used to view the series. Later this year, it will be showcased worldwide by Netflix. Rated adult for mature content.
The Cinemawala Rating: 3/5