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A Suitable Boy review: Somewhat suitable!

A Suitable Boy is an adaptation of Vikram Seth’s celebrated book.

Source: SIFY

By: Sonia Chopra

Critic's Rating: 3/5

Monday 26 October 2020

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Movie Title

A Suitable Boy review: Somewhat suitable!

Director

Mira Nair

Star Cast

Tabu, Tanya Manikantala, Ishaan Khatter, Rasika Dugal, Ram Kapoor

Set in the ‘50s, India’s post-Independence era, A Suitable Boy is an adaptation of Vikram Seth’s celebrated book.

With independent India’s journey as the backdrop, the series follows the story of Lata (Tanya Maniktala), a literature student, whose mother is urging her to choose a suitable boy to get married. Her random statements questioning marriage (perfectly natural for a young person) are the stuff of her mother’s nightmares.

Lata then has to choose between three men— the handsome poetry-loving Kabir who is affectionate but prioritizes his own dreams; the self-made, too-sensitive average Joe Haresh who seems besotted with her; or Amit, the suave celebrity poet who courts her with his words and cultivated charm. Meanwhile we follow the parallel story of well-heeled Maan (Ishaan Khatter) falling passionately in love with courtesan Saeeda Bai (Tabu) amidst political turmoil.

In the end, we wait to see who Lata chooses. Who will be ‘the suitable boy’? But first, we struggle to warm up to Lata. Sadly, we don’t know anything about her except that she studies literature and is fond of poetry. Rarely does she have any formidable dialogue or an infectious passion that draws us into her journey. She appears to go along with what others have planned for her life and remains too consistent in her reactions, whether she is infatuated with someone or conflicted. Since Lata’s character is so diluted in the series, we don’t end up being emotionally invested in this trajectory at all. The choice she makes towards the end appears to be more practical than suitable.

While the acting is earnest across the board, the veterans playing the older generation of characters steal the show. Characters speaking ‘too-formal’ English in an affected manner is a big downer. Directed by Mira Nair and written by Andrew Davies, the series suffers from an ‘outsider’s gaze’, rather than the perspective of someone steeped in the milieu. The distracting Indian classical-themed background score is another such example.

The best scenes are the ones that simply exist and have no real value in taking the story forward. The party celebrating a play’s success with the cast and crew, Haresh looking arranging a Christmas lunch for Lata’s family, Maan’s coming-of-age in a village, and so on.

The series is a visual treat with richly varied costumes and cinematography replete with ethereal, unhurried shots of mansions, lakes and mountains.  

The aspect that’s particularly arresting is the portrayal of newly-independent India. Like a gangly teenager, still finding its own feet, this new India seems to be an amalgamation of many personalities trying to find its core.

This era is represented by a strong colonial hangover, people still recovering from the wounds of partition, and politicians encouraging and exploiting divisions between religions.

The series does well in making a case for unity and friendship over hate and division.

The scenes where India votes as a democratic nation for the first-time post-Independence is especially moving. I had goosebumps.

One wishes the rest of the series was just as exemplary.

(A Suitable Boy can be viewed on Netflix) 

Sonia Chopra is a critic, columnist and screenwriter with over 15 years of experience. She tweets on @soniachopra2

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