Sometimes when I am browsing in book shops, I come across “A Suitable Boy” by Vikram Seth. Always wondered what the story was like and now I know because I have just finished watching “A Suitable Boy” drama miniseries which was screened on BBC One and directed by the acclaimed Mira Nair. It has the no-need-for-introduction and very famous Indian screen actress Tabu in it as an entertainer/courtesan. Her role is even more fascinating than the lead actress played by Tanya Maniktala.
The main character in this drama is 19-year old Lata, a university student majoring in English Literature. The story is set in fictional Brahmpur. We first see her feeding monkeys and then attending her elder sister’s arranged marriage to one of Lata’s lecturers, Pran whose father is the Revenue Minister. The story is set in 1951, after the India-Pakistan partition. Lata’s widowed mother wants to arrange Lata’s marriage next.
In university, Lata is approached several times by a boy whose name she doesn’t know. She develops feelings for him and is unaware he is a Muslim, a fact that won’t make him a suitable match for Lata in the eyes of Lata’s mother. Lata goes on dates with Kabir Durrani, the Muslim boy and is spotted by people who inform Lata’s mother. Lata wants to run away with Kabir but her refuses as he doesn’t want to be together with her that way.
To get Lata away from Kabir and with the intention of finding Lata a much more suitable life partner, Lata’s mother whisks her away to Calcutta where Lata’s elder brother lives with his very vivacious wife and young daughter. While in Calcutta, Lata meets her sister-in-law’s younger brother who is a poet. He falls for her and she finds him entertaining since he can compose poems at the drop of a hat.
The sarees in this drama are exquisite and so colourful. There’s a charm about life in the 1950s when the middle classes were dancing to jazz. There’s also traditional music featured, the beautiful sounds of the sitar and the Urdu music. The courtesan played by Tabu, Saeeda Bai is invited to sing at the house of Mahesh Kapoor, the Revenue Minister. The Minister’s son, Maan falls for her despite being half her age and begins visiting her house. Saeeda Bai’s clientele is from the crème de la crème of society, royals and politicians.
There is a lot going on in this drama with Lata’s mother going all the way to Lucknow to look for a suitable husband for Lata. There, she is introduced to Haresh who by chance spotted Lata at the Brahmpur train station when Lata and mother were on their way to Calcutta. Haresh gets mother’s approval and Lata is made to travel to Lucknow to meet Haresh.
I liked this drama as it’s so sumptuous and it’s a nice combination of East and West elements. Tabu is so gorgeous in this drama, even outshines women much younger than her. It’s worth watching because it goes from city to country life where people live in such poverty.