BOTTOM LINE: Exquisitely Cast, Vividly Shot, Visual Delight
Rating: 6.5 /10
Skin N Swear: Several lovemaking scenes
|Platform: Netflix||Genre: Drama, Romance|
What Is the Story About?
Accomplished filmmaker Mira Nair had been wanting to make the screen adaptation of Vikram Seth’s monumental and celebrated novel ‘A Suitable Boy‘ for the longest time. So obviously, when the opportunity presented itself, she grabbed the chance with both hands. A Suitable Boy is a Lookout Point production for BBC One. The novel has been adapted for the screen by renowned screenwriter Andrew Davies, and directed by Mira Nair and Shimit Amin (one episode). Netflix is streaming the series in India.
A Suitable Boy is set in the tumultuous times just after Independence, when a young Indian nation is preparing for its first general elections in 1952. The story centres on four families — the Mehras, Kapoors, Chatterjees and the Nawab of Baitar — and their interpersonal relationships, along with casting a keen eye on the distinctive socio-political issues of those times.
Rupa Mehra (Mahira Kakkar) is on the lookout for a suitable boy to marry off her younger daughter, Lata (Tanya Maniktala). The story begins with the marriage of Rupa Mehra’s elder daughter Savita (Rasika Dugal) with Pran Kapoor (Gagan Dev Riar), the elder son of Mahesh Kapoor (Ram Kapoor), Revenue Minister of Purva Pradesh (a fictional version of Uttar Pradesh).
Lata is a spirited University student, who won’t bow meekly to the wishes of her mother, or her older brother Arun Mehra (Vivek Gomber) and his wife Meenakshi Chatterjee (Shahana Goswami). As the story unfolds, we meet Lata’s three suitors, Kabir Durrani (Danesh Razvi), her high-achieving co-student, who’s Muslim (hence strictly a no-no in those times); Meenakshi’s suave and celebrated sibling, renowned poet Amit Chatterjee (Mikhail Sen); and finally, self-made shoe-businessman, Haresh Khanna (Namit Das).
The parallel arc of the plot centres on Maan Kapoor (Ishaan Khatter), Mahesh Kapoor’s younger, wayward son, his passionate affair with sensuous courtesan, Saeeda Bai (Tabu), and his perilous friendship with Firoz (Shubham Saraf), the Nawab of Baitar’s (Aamir Bashir) son.
As Lata grapples with the precarious situation of deciding which of her three suitors is ‘the one’ or, in the words of her mother, ‘a suitable boy’, Maan’s life takes a turn for the worse.
A Suitable Boy is an affecting coming-of-age story of the young, impressionable, post-independence generation – of Lata, of Maan, and to some extent, of Firoz.
Every member of A Suitable Boy’s spectacular cast has put in their heart and soul into their performance; and it shows. Tanya Maniktala, who had impressed viewers earlier in The Viral Fever’s Flames 1 & 2 series, is effortlessly natural as Lata. Her huge saucer-shaped eyes and generous smile are beguiling and bewitching, her screen presence is striking, and her acting is flawless.
Lata’s suitors are also simply superb. Danesh Razvi is earnest and refined as Kabir, not to say, extremely pleasing to the eye. Mikhail Sen is aptly cast as the sensitive poet, Amit, and pulls off being a legit member of the exalted Bengali Bhadralok with easy expertise. But the best portrayal is by Namit Das. His sometimes subdued, sometimes passionate, but always refined performance captures every nuance of Haresh Khanna’s layered personality with remarkable adeptness.
Ishaan Khatter has an impressive character arc in Mira Nair’s A Suitable Boy, perhaps the best in the series. He does full justice to the faith reposed in him by the casting director; and Nair, of course. He conveys both personas of his arc with exemplary skill — skill that is enticingly promising. Shubham Saraf, as Maan’s best friend Feroz, attracts attention for his subtle and sensitive portrayal, as well as his screen presence.
Tabu is sultry, and yet, sophisticated. Her Saeeda Bai elevates an otherwise disreputable character into one of beauty and complexity. Ram Kapoor is solidly dependable as Mahesh Kapoor, delivering a subtle, restrained performance. Shahana Goswami puts in a memorable portrayal as Meenakshi. She seems to be having the most fun of all the cast, playing the sexy, self-indulgent and sexually-liberated Meenakshi, who doesn’t think twice before melting down her late father-in-law’s prized gold medals to fashion earrings out of the gold. Mahira Kakkar is delightfully persuasive as Rupa Mehra; annoying, cloying and everything in between, which just shows how good she is as Rupa.
The rest of the massive cast is equally good, having put in some of their best work – Aamir Bashir, as the thoughtful and deeply sensitive Nawab of Baitar; Ranvir Shorey, as the wily Waris; Ananya Sen as Meenakshi’s flighty and vacuous sister Kakoli; Vijay Varma, as the lovelorn Rasheed; Vijay Raaz, as his man-of-the-times father; Vivek Gomber, as the pretentious Arun; Rasika Dugal as the pragmatic Savita; and lastly, Joyeeta Dutta, as Tabu’s pretty and dainty sister, Tasneem.
The first thing that strikes you about A Suitable Boy is how exceptionally well Andrew Davies has compressed one of the longest English language novels (a humongous 1349 pages or 1488 pages in soft cover) into six crisp one-hour episodes, without losing the evocative flavour of the story. The accomplished screenwriter has pared down the book to include the significant parts, while leaving out entire portions, also, not much to the detriment of the narrative.
Though several ‘A Suitable Boy’ aficionados have cribbed on social media about the series’ heartless, ‘sacrilegious’ chopping off of major portions, we think if it were any longer, it would have invited criticism for being long-drawn, bloated, self-indulgent, and all the other epithets critics deploy these days, to describe overly long shows.
The truncated series beautifully interlaces the diverse plotlines begging for viewers’ attention – Lata’s attempts to find love; Maan’s torrid plunge into forbidden desires; Mahesh Kapoor’s earnest craving to be the catalyst of far-reaching change in the country through the Land Reforms Act; and an India of the early fifties – a hotbed of religious bickering, petty Hindu-Muslim, Mandir-Masjid politics, blood-shedding in the name of religion (seventy years later, we are none the wiser with respect to the India situation).
The vivid, vibrant shots of dusty Indian roads — with their streetside hawkers; high-society revelry with tango nights; lush verdant countrysides with the omnipresent Ganga; Lata’s stunning handloom sarees, colourful festivities — are enough to take one’s breath away. One is enamoured with all the loveliness on screen.
The sweeping narrative moves from the fictional Brahmapur, Calcutta, Lucknow and then Benares, scurrying ahead at a fast clip, smoothly and seamlessly blending together the myriad elements into an attractive, cohesive whole. Yet, the political dimensions of the story infringe into the parallel narratives of Lata and Maan only as much as required — neither letting them get consumed by the flames of religious animosity, nor setting them aside as mere frivolity or a means to yank the story ahead. Which is why none of it comes across as contrived, and all of it seems authentic and realistic. Despite so much happening around them, the story still remains about Lata and the hunt for a suitable match for her; and Maan and his initiation into maturity and responsibility.
Some bits do rankle, obviously due to the curtailment from a massive novel to an easily consumable series – Rasheed’s arc is weird and meaningless, as is his Zamindar father’s. Their presence is needed only to depict the rich-poor, caste-class, gender and religious divides prevalent in those times. Of course, Rasheed has a lot more to do in the novel. Likewise, Dr Ila Kaul’s sole purpose of being in the series is to advise Lata to choose a husband who will let her grow.
Still, A Suitable Boy is an eminently watchable series, persuasive and evocative. It is written with a refined sagacity, and directed with a delicate sensibility.
Music and Other Departments?
Alex Heffe and Anoushka Shankar’s music is incandescent. The background score is affecting and invigorating. Kavita Seth has sung six stunning ghazals in the series, lending them fervour and feeling with her inimitable style of singing. The OST of A Suitable Boy will soon be out for buying.
Declann Quinn’s cinematography bestows vibrancy and vitality to the increasingly despondent narrative. His deft camerawork is stunning to behold.
Arjun Bhasin’s costumes are enchanting and eclectic. We are absolutely in love with Lata’s delicately woven handloom sarees and Maan’s spiffy kurta sets. Stephanie Carroll’s production design succeeds in giving that elusive larger-than-life appeal to the story, yet imbued with earthy rusticity.
The spectacular cast, and the exquisite casting
The sights, sounds, costumes, and technical aspects
The invigorating music
Some plot lines are meaningless, not to say weird and confusing
Did I Enjoy It?
Will You Recommend It?
A Suitable Boy Netflix Web Series Review by Binged Bureau
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