'A Suitable Boy' Review: Tabu's and Ishaan Khatter's unusual chemistry is the highlight of Mira Nair’s adaptation

Show: A Suitable Boy

Cast: Tabu, Ishaan Khatter, Tanya Maniktala, Namit Das, Rasika Dugal, Ram Kapoor, Mikhail Sen, Danesh Razvi, Shahana Goswami, Randeep Hooda, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Vinay Pathak, Manoj Pahwa, Vivaan Shah, Mahira Kakkar

Director: Mira Nair

OTT: Netflix

Rating: 3 Moons

A Suitable Boy is probably one of the finest, longest and well-written novels ever written in English. The fact that it is written by Vikram Seth, an Indian author and deals with Indian protagonists in a post-colonial India makes it a tad more exemplary. The book is structurally mighty, beautifully romantic and even though at a staggering 1349 pages, still surprisingly springy and light-hearted. However, the same cannot be said about Mira Nair’s adaptation that was made into a 6-episode series. It might be an uphill task to adapt the lengthy novel in a series but the nuances have been left out in the process and that is the main grouse about the show.

A Suitable Boy is centered on a mother’s hunt for a groom for her younger daughter. Set a few years after the Partition, it sees Lata Mehra (played by Tanya Maniktala), student of English Literature choose between three totally different suitors. The country is shown grappling with the societal changes as it tries to come of age along with our heroine. The book features incisive social commentary on the politics of the land and the societal norms. However, the show feels like a high school stage show, with half-baked characters and no depth. This is partly because of the purely functional nature of dialogues.

The show is full of talented Indian actors who for no apparent reason try to sound browner, how an Englishman would perceive an Indian to speak English and have cardboard accents. Weird Hindi-esque lilts are added to dialogues that are in English. This makes it impossible to fathom whether the choice of language was to stay closer to the book or to suit the Western audience’s perception of India. It might be argued by the makers that the choice of medium was because of Seth’s book but why rob the actors of their English-speaking fluency and make the series seem implausible. It is clear from the very beginning that the series caters to a White audience and the Indian ones might have trouble identifying or celebrating it.

A lot of A Suitable Boy is Bollywoodised and seem as if not a lot of research has gone in showcasing the post-colonial period in India, how the men and women interacted with each other, what the women wore at the time and how they spoke. The women wear extravagant dresses, Lata’s sister-in-law Meenakshi (played by Shahana Goswami) who is outspoken, modern, liberated, a feminine braveheart and in control of her sexuality is shown wearing deep cut blouses. She is the epitome of Bollywood’s template of a seductress.

Tanya Maniktala as Lata has an all-conquering smile which makes it difficult to understand the underlying emotions of her dilemma. Her perpetual smile takes away the depth of her character. Mahira Kakkar as Lata’s mother is magnificent. Ishaan Khatter as Maan Kapoor is a revelation. The brazen man in love with a courtesan played by Tabu is a ‘hoot’. Tabu playing Saaeda Bai lifts up the series and the chemistry between the two is breath-taking to watch There is one scene where Maan saves his friend Firoz from the hands of a blood-thirsty mob during the Hindu-Muslim riots that deserve a mention. Their friendship has some homo-erotic tension underneath but the makers do not dwell on it.

A Suitable Boy, the novel has its own traces of boldness, in its romance, narration and characterisations but the series dwells only on the boldness, erasing the social milieu and context totally, keeping a very Western approach to things. You question it when you see Lata and Kabir exchanging heated kisses in ghats, parks and other crowded places. There are such instances in the novel but that comes from stealing covert moments by sexually repressed men and women but, stealing kisses in public whenever and wherever seems a bit far-fetched, especially when the series is based in 1950s.

A Suitable Boy, the series stands out in its opulently made sets, the grandiloquence of costumes and locations and capturing the essence of post-independence Indian towns, havelis and official buildings. The series is vibrant, colourful and engaging, but for a White audience. An Indian audience might find some glaring misrepresentations of social realities, customs and trying to make an imperfect tribute to Indianness that is actually not prevalent in the country. However, bringing such an exemplary piece of writing to screens is a mammoth task and for that Mira Nair definitely deserves credit. gives A Suitable Boy 3 Moons