A Suitable Boy: An almost unsuitable adaptation
Mira Nair's "A Suitable Boy" was perhaps one of the year's most anticipated releases. However, the reception of the show has been quite unflattering. While it might not be the masterpiece that people were expecting, there's undoubtedly some charm to this odd little mini-series.
The story follows two main characters as they navigate their lives, Lata Mehra and Maan Kapoor. Lata is a young woman whose mother is insistent upon finding a suitable boy for her. At the same time, Maan is the wayward son of a local politician and the younger brother of Lata's brother in law. The show deals with many interesting aspects, both personal and political, but I will focus on the vast and varying cast of female characters. It was quite fascinating to see how many different aspects of womanhood were explored and how femininity and its expression is portrayed.
Firstly, we have our protagonist, Lata Mehra, a young University student who is naive when it comes to matters of the heart and craves freedom. Next is her sister Savita who is a good daughter and a loving wife and mother. We then meet Rupa Mehra, a timid widow but a domineering mother. She will, at any cost, find suitable matches for her children. Related to the Mehras is Meenakshi, the bold and unapologetic sister in law; she is glamorous and daring is therefore understandably quite unpleasant to her mother in law. One of the most notable characters central to Maan Kapoor's storyline, is Saeeda Bai. She is a Muslim courtesan who is revered at functions and parties for her lyrical expertise yet is shunned for her profession at all other times. It is quite the shift of the status quo that she becomes involved with Maan, who is much younger than her. The show features quite an extensive ensemble cast, and it is rather impossible to point out each and every standout character.
Another aspect that I was quite attracted to was Maan's friendship with Feroze, a Muslim nawabzada. The two share quite a close bond and are rather inseparable, but at points, one wonders if their relationship is entirely platonic. It seemed to me that the two were deliberately framed so that a certain ambiguity surrounds them, from how their interactions are filmed in shadowy corners, their covert touches, and how both fall for courtesans, Saeeda and Tasneem, who are ultimately unsuitable. Despite these involvements, which eventually end up going wrong, the bond between them remains as strong as ever, even after Maan stabs Feroze. Perhaps, I might be reading too much into the subtext. Still, there is definitely the possibility of a romantic relationship existing between the two, which might be the reason that we see both of the boy's relationships come to their ill-fated ends.
Many people weren't pleased with the show, but I enjoyed it immensely ; I especially loved how they dealt with so many different topics. The cinematography and the set and costume design alone is worth checking out. I do feel like "A Suitable Boy" is a must-watch, even if it might be slightly hard to move past the weirdly clunky English and slight historical inaccuracies. Although, I must confess that the show does feel like it is pandering to a white, non-Hindi speaking audience, I must include an amusing criticism of it that read online. 'The Crown in brown' is what Nair keeps describing A Suitable Boy as to anyone within earshot. That's reaching. 'Downtown Bhaji' would have been more accurate (Rohan Nahaar, The Hindustan Times).