Photo Credit | BBC
 

By Bis (university student)

First Thoughts

A promising coming of age tale on the backdrop of a 1950s newly independent India, ‘A Suitable Boy’ comes to screen as a series adaptation based on the book of similar name. Much to my delight, it welcomed an exclusively Indian cast.

Of course, the first episode begins with a big fat Indian wedding. Hardly ten minutes in and with the eldest daughter now being married off (Savita Mehr),the mothers (Rupa) hopeful eyes now turn to her youngest daughter (Lata) to get married. Like any other university student these days, Lata’s thoughts don't revolve around finding a husband as her mother would hope, but rather around pointing out flaws in the syllabus much to the disdain of her professor, thus making Lata both a lovable and somewhat relatable character.

The first episode offered a stunning background and the rustic colour grading provided a vintage like flair to the scenes. Although, I feel it may have slightly washed out the vibrant coloured outfits that we so often link with Indian culture. Only a tad bit though, these elitist Indians still looked beautiful in their outfits and dazzling gold jewellery.

Anyone with a working set of ears would hear Rupa discussing plans for Lata’s marriage throughout the episode, meanwhile Lata has caught the eye of a mysterious boy at university (Kabir). Although appearing like a prince charming character, we don't learn much about him in this episode other than the fact he's also a poetry enthusiast like Lata. To spice things up, he won't be the only love interest for Lata. I'll need to see more about him in the coming episodes before I decide if I'm on team Kabir.

I couldn't help but notice that the cast spoke with stereotypical Indian accents. Perhaps a better alternative might have been to speak their native tongues with English subtitles but that would take away from the fact this is a British series. However, I acknowledge that the influence from the British would have also been lingering, hence the wide use of English so I will begrudgingly let the language factor slide. I must say the few times they spoke in native languages felt far more authentic and conveyed emotions which otherwise get lost in translation.

Marriage talks were not the only cliché; I noticed that in the first episode there were gossiping aunties, a potential evil sister in law and obviously the mysterious love interest. This already feels like a stereotypical Indian drama about to unfold. However, there is something that keeps me wanting to see more as I believe this series has great potential.

This episode was able to somewhat capture the volatile nature of the society in a post partition India which was riddled with Hindu-Muslim tensions, something that we can see more recently within the political climate of India today. No doubt this is something that I feel will be a heavy theme in the coming episodes and will pose its own unique challenges for the characters to navigate whilst in their pursuit of romance.

The first episode ended nicely on a little cliff-hanger and the preview for the next episode. Although not completely living up to my expectations, it was still a good episode and I look forward to watching each individual character arc.

Final thoughts

A brilliant saga surrounding love, loss and friendship but ultimately lacking some crucial depth. At the heart of the story, a widowed mother in 1950s India tries to find a suitable boy for her youngest daughter, Lata. It was a promising series but unfortunately, I can't give this series as much credit as I initially hoped. Despite not having read the book myself, I can't help but think this is definitely one of those cases where the book is far better than the screen adaptation.

The biggest factor contributing to this has to be the mere six episodes that were to hold the entire story. Having only six episodes meant a lot of the story was very superficial. Important scenes were glossed over or skipped entirely and this left me rather confused more than anything. This lack of clarity made for a less exciting tale and difficulty in understanding characters. This held true especially for Lata’s suitors who didn't get enough screen time to make a lasting impression. I would have been excited to see more on Kabir, Amit and Haresh's back stories and how they have shaped into the present. We get glimpses into their personal struggles here and there, but these only leave more questions than answers. Poor character arcs and story development for these guys follow as a result.

Lata (played by Tanya Manikatala) was the main protagonist and it's only normal for her suitors to not get as much screen time in comparison. It brought me great joy in watching her grow throughout the series from this witty girl to a more conscious and confident woman, almost as though she is representing the growth of a newly independent nation finding its footing. Yet it still felt as though Lata’s choice in the end was a rushed decision rather than one followed by a series of complex events that helped her on this journey of self-discovery.

On the other hand, Maan (played by Ishaan Khattar)who is like Lata's parallel had one of the best characters arcs of all. He starts off with a carefree yet playful persona but goes through various experiences which ultimately shape him. Despite his reckless nature one can't help but love him, even throughout his struggles. Ishaan Khattar puts on a passionate performance that could draw emotions out from even the most cold-hearted of viewers. The complexity of his character and his path into manhood is so well portrayed on-screen. Furthermore, the turbulence in society and his character’s life is so well interwoven yet cleverly reflective of India at the time.

Overall it was a good series, not the best nor the worst. The series definitely checks a lot of boxes for me; an all Asian cast, superb cinematography, shot on location for accuracy and excellent attention to deal, plus incredible performances from talented actors. But it fell short in the most key area of all, that being a persuasive story. One with enough depth and clarity to keep me interested which again I feel could only be achieved with a longer series. Squeezing a one thousand and three hundred or so page book into six episodes all whilst maintaining the integrity of the novel and its various characters is still a difficult feat.


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