I watched the Netflix series, ‘A Suitable Boy’ yesterday. This BBC directed series, having 6 episodes, is based on the Vikram Seth’s novel, with the same title. I have not read the book, and so I cannot comment on the originality and comparison between the book and the TV show. But I would like to express my opinion on the miniseries.
The story is based on a newly independent India from the clutches of British rule. Those were the years around 1950-52, when India embarked on its journey to build a nation which had been dominated by mass poverty, communal hatred between Hindus and Muslims, and an immediate need to strengthen the unity of India. The story revolves around four families in Brahmpur town, which are the Kapoors( key family in local politics), Mehras( in-laws of Kapoors), Khans ( who are the Nawabs) and Chatterjis( rich, liberal family in Calcutta). along with Saeeda bai (the singer-prostitute), Kabir Durrani and Haresh Khanna.
Lata, is the protagonist of the story, whose mother wants to find a suitable boy for her to marry. Lata falls in love with Kabir Durrani, a handsome guy in Brahmpur university. But she finds out that he is a Muslim, and hence she decides not to marry him as her conservative family would never accept it. Her brother’s family is married to Chatterji’s in Calcutta, and her sister-in-law introduces Lata to Namit Chatterji, who belongs to a rich Bengali family, immersed deeply in literature and music. Lata finds Namit exceedingly liberal, poetic and dreamer, and she still goes out with him a few times. But later, she realizes that she would never be his dream woman, as she is too pragmatic and conservative. Even Lata’s mother did not like Namit.
Then, Lata’s mother introduces Lata to Haresh, who is a self-made man, working as a foreman in shoe factory. Haresh had ran away from his family, toiled hard to make his way up in the factory, and even went to England for higher studies. Lata’s mother likes Haresh and finds him to be suitable boy for Lata. Initially, Lata is not very appreciative of Haresh’s humble nature, and down to earth attitude. Finally, at the end, when Haresh after not receiving any positive response from Lata, he decides to move on, she does realize how much she loved him. So, she ran away to the railway station, and then proposed Haresh in front of everyone. Thus, Lata ( and her mother) are successful in finding ‘A Suitable Boy’ as per the storyline! End of the story.
This might sound to be a boring story, but this is the crux of the TV series. Yes, you read it right. Even though there are many other characters and supporting sub-stories to extend this to a 6 episode series, but the main storyline sticks to the suitable boy hunt for Lata. As I have not read the original book, hence, I am not sure how the book conveyed this story. But this BBC produced and Mira Nair directed miniseries lacks originality. It seems that the series has been hastingly concluded without even making the purpose of characters relevant. For example, Kabir’s role is very brief and non-relevant. Initially, it does seem that Lata has fallen for Kabir,and this might become another Hindu-Muslim romance story, but Lata simply rejects him ( even after performing in Shakespeare’s play along with him).
Maan Kapoor’s dalliance with Saeedabai and Meenakshi Chatterji’s sexual scenes with some random guy named Billy( while trying to hide this from Mehra’s and Kapoor’s) are utterly non-relevant for this story theme. It seems that being western directed, they want to insert some sex scenes just to make it look romantic and gather audience to watch this series. But such tactics work in Hollywood, but not in Indian diaspora. Indians often do not want sex scenes in the movie/TV series just for the sake of making it romantic. Rather, we Indians often appreciate the subtle emotions of love between the lovers, and few romantic songs. Due to the multiple western motivated coitus scenes, makes it even more banal.
However, the background of local village politics, which is often influenced by religion and caste equations is superbly portrayed in this series. The scenes of communal violence between Hindus and Muslims is something of a stigma on the Indian society. Yes, it is true that India have had many riots after independence, and both sides are to be blamed equally. I am in no denial of this. But the problem I find is the primary focus these so called western (BBC and Hollywood) directors and writers put on this topic, especially the British. They find solace in adding fuel to fire by showing the riots and hatred between these two religions, very often in their movies and TV series. I don’t understand why? Infact the irony is the British themselves played the divide and rule politics before India became independent, and led to the partition of India. And since then, they have been propagandizing to the world through such shows and movies, that how the two religions still fight and hate each other. BBC and western movie directors should realize that India has come up much ahead and has proudly stood as an example of ‘Unity in Diversity‘ amidst all its problems.
Infact, this is one of the biggest flaws in this story. They should have shown Lata marrying Kabir, defying the religious divide. This would have ideally been in congruence with the secular idea of India. If they can show a scene of Kabir kissing Lata in the temple premises ( which led to a huge controversy of ‘Love-Jihad’ in the India conservative media), why can’t they take it ahead of showing them being married? But as per the story, Lata marries Haresh, who is more of an arranged guy deemed suitable in the conservative Indian mindset. This is where the miniseries disappoints most of the audience, including me.
But the series does have some positive remarks as well. It courageously portrays the bond between Maan and Firoz, and Mahesh Kapoor and the Nawab, as a Hindu-Muslim unity,which does earn accolades from the viewers like me. The background of a 1950’s India in Calcutta, and villages is very excellently displayed. The elite clubs of Calcutta, the land reform bill and its effect on the zamindaars/landlords, the 1952 elections, and even the prejudice faced by hard working Indians ( as in case of Haresh Khanna while trying to secure a job in Praha, a Czech shoe factory for the managerial position) from the British/European firms in India are shown with intricacy. This gives the viewers a panorama of the early years of India after independence.
Concluding this review, I would give a rating of 3 out of 5. The series could have fared much better had they removed the sexual scenes, which were non-relevant for the story. But the series fares well in depicting the Indian mindset behind marrying women, the deep involvement of family in selecting the right guy for the girl, and the historic background shown in the post-independence India.