With Brahmpur’s receding skyline getting murkier with each passing episode, as the flames of bloodshed mar a fragmented country, Mira Nair’s iteration paints a kaleidoscopic vision of a post-partition India, that endures. Adapted by Andrew Davies, as Nair takes the helm, BBC’s A Suitable Boy captures the nuances embodied by a nation emerging from the fog of violence.
A Suitable Boy follows a panoply of perspectives, piled up on top of each other resulting in an overwhelming experience. On one hand, the show tells the titular story of Lata Mehra (Tanya Maniktala), a 19-year-old woman, fluent in Joyce and Shakespeare, whose mother (Mahira Kakkar) is determined to find the perfect husband for her, one deemed to be ‘suitable’ by society, and then by her mother.
Simultaneously, the narrative charts a course following the drifting tendencies of Maan Kapoor (Ishaan Khattar)—who is anything but (suitable)—a young man infatuated with the delicate and careful charms of a courtesan named, Saeeda Bai Firozabadi (Tabu). In his passionate affair with Saeeda, Maan puts everything at stake-from age-old friendships to his father’s (Ram Kapoor) political career, even himself.
The third protagonist that occupies a penumbral space, surfacing now and then in physical as well as mutated forms of violence, is the partition and the ever-evolving trauma that follows after incessantly. A Suitable Boy is a telling of these three accounts and other sub-narratives that branch out from these.
Despite the character list exceeding the available at hand ten-fingers, A Suitable Boy is consistent in its delivery and features an ensemble cast. Even with performances by established actors like Tabu, Rasika Dugal and Vinay Pathak in the mix, the younger names outshine their older counterparts seamlessly.
Ishaan Khattar carries himself with suave as he jumps from one blunder to another. Though fairly new to the industry, the incredibly talented actor charges in a heady and risqué fashion in his advances made towards Saeeda. As the son of a politician, Maan is too carefree, living one day at a time, unconscious of the very fabric that shapes his reality. However, the transformation that his character undergoes, though a bit rushed, and a successful portrayal of the same shows off a polished actor.
Tanya Maniktala’s Lata Mehra exudes dynamism and temperament native to college students. With an easy magnetism, the actress captures the conflicted mind as love, ambition and expectations clash. In a slow thought-provoking manner, Lata assesses her suitors while ensuring not to get trapped into the throes of passion.
Tabu’s Saeeda Bai casts a spell on you from the get-go. Introduced as an enigmatic nightingale, the actress lulls you into a trance-like state with her hypnotic gestures and a gaze that beckons. It’s hard to resist the self-sustaining appeal in which the actress envelops herself while maintaining a fierceness that can be piercing.
Vijay Varma’s deranged and fragmented Abdur Rasheed bears semblance to the sensation produced by taking a stab at a fresh wound, that hasn’t yet healed and is beginning to fester. The crumbling psyche, when faced with constant conflict and trauma, is expertly crafted by the actor.
While A Suitable Boy has a lot to offer, one thing that stands out is the synergy of expressions produced by animated dialogues, old Indian ambience & eye-catching aesthetics, that blend together to give the perfect cultural rush.
The limited series is all that, and more. It isn’t a hollow colourful outline that lies empty at the core; the core comes alive with almost nothing left to be desired.
Another reason to go for the show would be the indelible chemistry between Maan and Firoz (Shubham Saraf) that surpasses the religious temper of a fractured society.
Rather than worrying about who may Lata end up with, one might find themselves asking the same question about Maan and Firoz. Such is the friendship of the duo.
There are a few instances where the chords just don’t strike, and a well stitched narrative seems to be coming apart at the seams.
Resting in the melodramatic sighs of Rupa Mehra and the sudden quiver of her otherwise stable tone, or in the Indian English accent that casts off a strong spell, are these moments where the viewers may find themselves to be suddenly displaced.
Whenever this strange mechanism occurs, the events on the screen appear to be rather comical and the well-established saga starts to lose its bearings.
Mira Nair and Andrew Davies have managed to sift out one of the most complicated chapters from the broad sweep of Indian history and successfully translate it for the screen.
A Suitable Boy has its ups and downs, yet none at the cost of detracting from its substance. Even if you haven’t read the book, it’s a memorable journey that is reminiscent of likes of Marquez, and well-executed as an adaptation.