This 6 part adaptation of Vikram Seth’s monumental 1993 novel seems to have fallen under the radar, which is a shame, because it’s quite good.
The story, set in India in the early 1950s, begins with a wedding, after which the mother of the bride starts looking for a husband for her younger daughter Lata – the “suitable boy” of the title. Of course, Lata has her own ideas.
The story quickly opens up and covers a number of issues – retail politics in what was then a new democracy, the changing status of women, life in rural villages, creeping nostalgia for the recently departed British, land reform, the development of new industries, and the still thorny issue of Hindu/Muslim relations. Even cricket has a moment.
Although the story of Lata and her search for a husband is the “primary” narrative, the story of her brother in law Maan takes over somewhere in the middle episodes, which is good because his story is more unusual and more interesting. Maan, a younger son described as “a disappointment to his father” has unsuitable relationships of his own. As a result of his bad choices, he is exposed to parts of Indian life which are as foreign to him as they are to us. He learns a lot, as do we.
Although this is a BBC production, the cast is almost exclusively Indian actors, and the director is an Indian American, Mira Nair. Perhaps for this reason It feels more authentic than many recent British productions set in India. There are extended sessions of Indian vocal and instrumental music, which I found enchanting.
The first episode is a bit slow, since it takes a while to introduce all the characters and their relationships. I wish Netflix had included a family tree on its website. By the middle of the second episode, though, the introductions are done. And the characters won’t let you go.