Set in 1950s India, A Suitable Boy, an over-1500 page book, is now adapted into a 6-part series for BBC by Mira Nair. (Written by Andrew Davies, who has also made Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace, and Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables into 6 part series for BBC.) It will release on Netflix India on October 23.
The book and the series begin in Brahmpur, the mythical city on the banks of the Ganga (or Ganges as one of the characters insists). It then swerves to the suave chiffon, pearl, silk, and lace parties of Calcutta, the austere countryside and beyond (but never South of the Vindhyas). This is BBC’s first historical drama with no white main characters.
The book and the series, thus, charts the story of 4 families- the Mehras , the Kapoors, the Chatterjis, and the Khans, over a year and a half.
Written through the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition, and published in 1993, Seth used the riots and the demolition to weave his world of 1950s India, fraying at the edges. This is now being adapted for the screen in 2020 when the fraying has all but eaten into the secular Nehruvian fabric. The masjid’s demolition has now a temple’s foundation stone perched on it. The book, and thus, the series is a story of India’s evolution, but also one of India’s reflection. And while there is some irony to be mined from the fact that this series is housed under BBC, we’ll take it if it means more of Tabu in Arjun Bhasin’s saris.
Here is your guide to the series, and its motley characters.
The story has two main strands:
1. Lata Mehra (Tanya Maniktala) is a student of literature at the Brahmpur University, whose widowed mother Rupa Mehra (Mahira Kakkar) is trying to find her a suitable boy. Lata is partly modeled on Vikram Seth’s own mother Leila Seth, the first woman High Court Chief Justice of India.
2. Maan Kapoor (Ishaan Khatter) is a playful wastrel, whose fixation with Saeeda Bai Firozabadi (Tabu), the local courtesan with a “fine, rich, and powerfully emotional voice”, disturbs his and his parents’ peace of mind.
Arun (Vivek Gomber) is Lata’s eldest sibling, the arrogant and British boot-licking brother in suspenders, a “pleasant-looking bully”. He is married to Meenakshi (Shahana Goswami), from a suave Calcutta lawyer family, who is pursuing a clandestine affair with Billy Irani (Randeep Hooda).
Arun Mehra (Vivek Gomber) & Meenakshi Mehra (Chatterjee). 1 day to go for the premiere of @MiraPagliNair "A Suitable Boy" an adaptation of Vikram Seth's famous book, on @BBCOne and @BBCiPlayer – Sunday, 26th July, 9pm. Rest of the world, hang in there. Coming soon! #ASuitableBoy pic.twitter.com/4F9Q5UcPqD
— Shahana Goswami (@ShahanaGoswami) July 25, 2020
Savita (Rasika Duggal) is Lata’s sister, who lives in Brahmpur with her husband. Pran (Gagan Dev Riar), Maan’s brother, “lank, dark, gangly, asthmatic… a good, decent, cultured Khatri boy”. Pran is a literature lecturer at the local university where Lata studies.
Varun (Vivaan Shah) is Lata’s youngest sibling, a lost university student, Swadeshi man in tattered kurtas, a Shamshu drinking disillusioned youth, who lives with his brother in Calcutta. He hates and is hated by Arun. Lata has a soft spot for him.
Mahesh Kapoor (Ram Kapoor), Maan’s father, is a finance minister, a Congress-wala, deeply distubred by the direction of the party and the nation, as well as his engaged son, obsessed with courtesan Saeeda Bai. Communalism is abrew. He is attempting to pass the Zamindari bill, even as one of his close friends, Nawab Sahib of Baitar, is to lose land if it passes.
L.K.Agarwal (Vinay Pathak) is the home minister (modeled on LK Advani, perhaps), in the same party as Mahesh Kapoor, but always at loggerheads with him. Agarwal, a fan of Sardar Vallabai Patel, fans the communal flames, which makes Kapoor, a Gandhian, deeply uncomfortable.
Raja Of Marh (Manoj Pahwa) is the rich landowner who is against the Zamindari Bill. He is debauched, rotund, and while sleeps often with Saeeda Bai, houses a hatred for Muslims. He is building a Shiva temple in front of the mosque, so when the Muslims face Mecca for their prayers, they are bowing to the Shiva-ling.
Firoz Khan (Shubham Saraf), Nawab Sahib’s lawyer son, and Maan’s best friend.
Rasheed (Vijay Varma) is Maan’s Urdu teacher, with communist leanings. Maan wants to learn to write Urdu so he can read poetry and write to Saeeda Bai, who cannot read English. Vijay Raaz plays his father, a landowner in Rudhia village.
Lata’s Three Suitors
Kabir Durrani (Danesh Razvi) is the son of a Mathematics lecturer at Brahmpur University, and a cricket player, here dressed like an Instagram model in prints, chintz, stoles, and sneakers. He’s the first to fall in love with Lata. Alas, he’s Muslim. Alas-er, he’s quite the catch.
Amit Chatterji (Mikhail Sen), Meenakshi’s eldest brother, is Lata’s second suitor. He traded in the life of a lawyer for that of a writer. If writer Anita Desai is to be believed, Amit is modeled on Vikram Seth himself. (Seth gave up on an Economics PhD to write prose and poetry. Even the contents of A Suitable Boy are in rhyming couplets.)
Haresh Khanna (Namit Das) plays Lata’s third suitor, the paan-chewing, brogue and coat wearing soft-spoken man interested in making it big in the shoe world. His is a world of leather tanneries, and getting over an old lover, by hopefully, charming a new one, Lata.