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Review: ‘A Suitable Boy’ Scores in its Frames, But Falters in Pace
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Review: ‘A Suitable Boy’ Scores in its Frames, But Falters in Pace

The series stars Tabu, Ishaan Khatter among others

Updated
Movie Reviews
4 min read

A Suitable Boy

Review: ‘A Suitable Boy’ Scores in its Frames, But Falters in Pace

In a pandemic-hit world, covering the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and watching the beautifully-curated cinematic gems translate to digital screenings on one's own laptop makes us realise that we have to adjust to the “new normal”. For the first time in its history, TIFF showcased its selection virtually, combined with in-person and drive-in screenings as travelling to Toronto for the international press is almost out of question.

Mira Nair, whose A Suitable Boy will close the festival , received the Jeff Skoll Award for Impact Media at a remotely conducted TIFF Tribute Awards ceremony. However, for those of us covering the festival virtually, the six-part mini-series was screened for 48 hours. That’s how yours truly watched it.

The epic novel by Vikram Seth has been adapted for a BBC series by prolific screenwriter Andrew Davies. Mira has directed all the episodes except the fourth one, for which Shimit Amin was roped in.
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Set in 1951, four years after India’s freedom from the British rule, A Suitable Boy has at its centre the lovely Lata (Tanya Maniktala), whose mother insists on finding a match for her. Much of the appeal of the novel, for those who have read it and even those approaching the series with a tabula rasa, is its magnanimous scale and vision. The interweaving of the personal story of Lata and her family with the political story of a newly independent country trying to find its own voice makes for a great read and even adaptation.

Seth’s humongous novel, set against the historical background teeming with characters and immersive backstories and motivations, has a fan club of its own. Compressing the sprawling narrative into a mini series would have always been a challenging task. Also, it takes some amount of adjusting to see characters in an Indian setting speaking in English. There are bits of Hindi and Bangla thrown in but the accent would need getting used to.

A still from A Suitable Boy.
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However we are soon engrossed because of all that is packed into the limited time. Mrs Mehra (Mahira Kakkar) makes her intentions clear by announcing to Lata “you too will marry a boy I choose” as the series opens in Brahmpur. It’s Lata's elder sister Savita’s (Rasika Duggal) wedding and from there on starts Lata’s own rendezvous for her suitable boy. During the course of the narrative she meets a Muslim boy in her University, Kabir, (Danesh Razvi), the poet Amit (Mikhail Sen)and eventually the cobbler Haresh (Nimit Das).


The show chronicles the saga of the four large families - Mehras , Kapoors, Chaterjis and Khans - and also documents the precarious position a nascent democracy finds itself in. The two threads we mainly focus on are that of Lata and her brother-in-law, the wilful Maan Kapoor (played by a terrific Ishan Khatter). Newcomer Tanya Maniktala makes for a luminous Lata and she is truly a find. In fact, the fabulously put together cast in Arjun Bhasin’s resplendent costumes and the attention to detail by production designer Stephanie Carroll keep the proceedings immersive and authentic.


The series begins by informing us that “when India became independent in 1947, it was partitioned into two countries. India was free but the land and the people were divided forever.” A lot happens through the course of the six episodes. From showcasing the precariously balanced communal harmony which is threatened because of a mandir being built bang opposite a masjid, the arrogance of the landed zamindars to a young India, its people and their expectations from the political class, A Suitable Boy is very dense. Also, a lot of pleasure is to be derived from the beautifully adorned cast members- the enigmatic Tabu as Saeeda Bai to the sultry and scheming Shahana Goswami, Ram Kapoor, Mahira Kakkar, Rasika Duggal, Vivek Gomber and Manoj Pahwa. Added to that is the exquisite music by Alex Heffes and Anoushaka Shankar, making the proceedings richer.

A still from A Suitable Boy.
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However, one can’t help but wonder, given the elaborate source material why the series has been limited to six episodes and not more. Some of the most perceptive scenes are invested in Lata’s emotional evolution or Saeeda Bai's bewitching presence. But the political upheaval of the times seems to be forcefully summarised, with actors like Randeep Hooda and Vijay Verma underutilised.

A Suitable Boy is a pleasurable watch and there is a lot of beauty in it to keep us hooked. However, there is a hurriedness to the storytelling, which leaves us craving for more.

Our rating: 3.5 Quints out of 5 .

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