I found myself in the curious position where I was reading Vikram Seth's 1500-page tome A Suitable Boy parallel to BBC dropping the weekly episodes of its adaptation. It just so happened that I always had read the pertinent portions before I saw them unfold on director Mira Nair's sprawling canvas. So, while watching it with the same agony and catharsis of Twitter users questioning the accents, or having collective jaws drop with Tabu's every gaze, there was also an inherent "fact-checking" element to my viewing.
Also Read: A Guide To A Suitable Boy, Mira Nair's Adaptation Of Vikram Seth's 1500 Page Book
This fact-checking, while entertaining, was also, I must confess, a bit pedantic- I would scrunch my face when strings of jasmine would be picturized on roses, or when Lata (Tanya Maniktala) wears a purple sari to her sister Savita's wedding, because in the novel, it is pink, giving her sister-in-law Meenakshi (Shahana Goswami) an excuse to comment, "The pink doesn't suit really suit you, Luts".
This list, however, isn't pedantic, and thus isn't exhaustive. It's a more birds-eye view of where the series deviated from the book. This is not to say that the series shouldn't have deviated, because the medium dictates the art. Here, we have music composed by a 30 piece orchestra from Baudapest recorded remotely, ghazals composed and sung by Kavita Seth, subtitled like dialogue, and costumes that breathe tactility, draping the 113 Indian actors. It's a different life form, streaming currently on Netflix.
Within the first ten minutes of the series it is established that Maan (Ishaan Khatter) and his best friend Firoz (Shubham Saraf) harbour erotic affections for each other, when he brushes off the rose petal from Maan's shoulder with a longing gaze. Vikram Seth writes Firoz, a brother- Imtiaz, and a sister- Zainab who is married. In the book, Firoz, Imtiaz, and Maan are together at the wedding, and so any lingering tension between Firoz and Maan is swept under the homosocial setting. The homoerotic tension, if any, is too subtle at the beginning of the book. I was pleasantly shocked how Mira Nair brought this up-front. In the book this becomes clear only much later, 1142 pages in, when Maan tells Firoz, "All that is over. We were just kids. Don't tell me you're jealous," passing his hands over Firoz's hair with a small sigh.
One thing that frustrated me was Seth, despite taking 1500 pages, not going into the details we want him to go into. He describes the rural countryside down to the seeds being sown, but refuses to tell us if Kabir (Danesh Razvi) kissed Lata on the cheeks or the lips or the forehead, or, heaven-be-patient, the hand.
It is the series that has to take this forward, but it flips the power. In the series it is Lata that pulls Kabir in for their first kiss. She's more confident, poised, and even her nerves are overshadowed by the earnestness of her moon-sized eyes.
What I thought the book did, which the series didn't bother with, is give Kabir a nonchalance that could be construed as a red-flag. He is too earnest in the series, almost made ideal. The following line in the book was pivotal to me to make peace with Lata's eventual decision to not marry Kabir. The fact that it was axed in the retelling made that bitterness sting.
"When Lata asks him if he has kissed anyone else, he looks amused, "What was that?"
She was looking at his face; she didn't repeat the question. 'Do you mean ever?' he asked. 'No. I don't think so. Not seriously.' And he rode off."
This was perhaps a rushed decision, but Maan's popularity in the village seems to have come from one incident. In the book that incident happens in private, and his popularity is a result of his sympathetic simmering in rural life. He just doesn't come and flit away back to Brahmpur, but "has won [their] hearts by his simplicity". Even his departure from Rudhia in the series is sudden. The whole countryside stretch was snapped.
When Mira Nair was asked by Sanjoy Roy at an online Jaipur Literature Festival event, how she brought her female gaze to this story written by a man, adapted into a screenplay by another man, her answer lay in a character that the series explored more diligently- Mrs Mahesh Kapoor (Geeta Agrawal Sharma), "A silent devoted gardener, not even given a first name, who is the silent spine of her family… She was never really a vocal character in the [initial] 8 drafts. I noticed that Vikram dedicated the Hindi translation of A Suitable Boy by Ram Gandhi to Mrs Mahesh Kapoor… I knew then how important she is to him as she is to me and basically wrote in this character, fleshed her out, and gave her several scenes."
Meenakshi (Shahana Goswami) is often seen in the series in sensational blouses, doing tango in silk pant petticoats, or cuckolding her husband in the carved arms of Randeep Hooda. In the series, she and her sister Kakoli (Ananya Sen) are seen bumbling about in couplets, but in the book this loving caricature is given a conflict- she becomes pregnant, and this makes one tensely wonder if her infidelity will be unmasked.
There is a hilarious moment in the book where the three men- Kabir, Amit (Mikhail Sen), and Haresh (Namit Das) meet at a cricket match and have a conversation, but none of them realize they are all courting the same girl, Lata.
In the book it happens outside Lata's brother's house in Calcutta, and they all are made aware that they are one of three men in love with Lata. This axed the tension, but also made for a more cinematic thud as Lata's mother shuts the door on Kabir, inviting Haresh in, as Amit leaves.