A Suitable Boy
Cast: Taniya Maniktala, Ishaan Khatter, Tabu, Ram Kapoor, Mahira Kakkar
Director: Mira Nair
If you would ask me to pick one striking feature of Vikram Seth’s book, I would say its strong sense of justice. Something that hasn’t been translated in Mira Nair’s show. However, it has exceptional cinematography level and an amazing ensemble.
Mrs Mehra (Mahira Kakkar) worries about the perfect suitor for her University-going daughter Lata (Taniya Maniktala), who would soon get torn among three suitable candidates. The three boys have different backgrounds—first an elite poet from Kolkata, second is a cricketer-cum-intellectual fellow Muslim student and the third is a working class hero with moist eyes and a vision for good shoes.
There is another track involving a minister’s son Maan (Ishaan Khatter) and an elderly ‘tawaif’ Saeeda (Tabu). They have reasons to frequently fall in and out of love. Somehow, they take centre-stage and stay there for longer than Lata and her quest for the faultless partner. To a common Netflix millennial viewer, the 1300-page book might not be the reference point and you can’t exactly blame him for not taking Lata as the real narrator. Also because Maan and Saeeda show much more intensity than at least half a dozen other pairs.
To be honest, the unidirectional characters lack dramatic arcs Indian viewers expect in a lovestory , tragic or happy. None of the major characters actually stick out as the one having a solid purpose to make us take them with a little more seriousness than just a fleeting mention of Joyce and some vague lines about the Ganges and its impact on your psyche.
While the book is also a sharp commentary on the handling of India’s nascent independence by the Congress party and its volatile social fabric and communal tensions, the show forces every potentially pertinent question in the background and never lets them come to the forefront.
Oddly, the one character which makes some space for itself among colonial-era structures is the City of Joy’s Meenakshi (Shahana Goswami), promiscuous and borderline vulgar but very genuine. Her flamboyance strikes a chord with the audience and her intimate scenes with Randeep Hooda have a breezy feel to it.
The same is with Ram Kapoor. Even without his wickedly charming smile, he manages to impress with his understanding of space and movement. He comes across as a misunderstood visionary beaten at his own home turf.
But all said and done, Nair’s 6-episode miniseries fails to impress and that hurts because well, it’s Nair, the master of terrific storytelling.