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A ‘suitable’ non-white cast for Vikram Seth’s tome from Sunday – art and culture


At over 1,300 pages and nearly 6 lakh words, Vikram Seth’s 1993 tome ‘A Suitable Boy’ tested the reading skills of many, but BBC hopes its adaptation for television beginning Sunday will delight them and others with what is billed as the first all non-white cast for a BBC series.

Starring Tabu, Ishan Khattar and Tanya Maniktala, the six-part 1950s drama shot entirely in India is directed by Mira Nair after Seth’s novel was adapted by Andrew Davies. A buzz has been building up before its screening, with the UK media highlighting its non-white cast.

The British Raj in India has been a major theme in British films and television in recent years and decades, depicting a certain narrative of the colonial project, but the Britain of 2020 is considered more receptive to non-white themes, actors and performances.

The non-white cast is a point of interest , but not so much for the cast, whose leading lights have been interacting with the media. Nair appeared on BBC on Wednesday morning, other acts joined a webinar, while Maniktala told The Guardian: “This is an Indian story, so it’s about time it was told by us”. None of the characters in Seth’s novel are white. 

The series, announced in 2017, tells the story of university student Lata (Maniktala), coming of age in north India in 1951 at the same time as the country is carving out its own identity as an independent nation and is about to go to the polls for its first general election.

Torn between duty to her family and the excitement of romance, Lata embarks on a journey of love, desire and heartache as three very different suitors vie for her hand. Her choice will play out against the tumultuous political backdrop of India in the 1950s.

“It is a vast, panoramic tale charting the fortunes of four large families and exploring India and its rich and varied culture at a crucial point in its history”, the BBC said, adding that it will be on Netflix a year for all global territories, except Canada, the United States and China after a year.

Damian Keogh of production company Lookout Point, said: “We’re hugely excited to be partnering with Netflix to bring ‘A Suitable Boy’ to international audiences, hot on the heels of its UK debut on BBC One”.

“This epic tale speaks of human truths of life, love and family amid a country in rapid transition – themes and experiences as relevant today as when they were written.”

Caroline Stone, director of Independent Drama at BBC Studios, added: “The demand for quality British drama is higher than ever globally so we are thrilled to be partnering with Netflix on this wonderful series to bring audiences around the world Vikram Seth’s literary classic reimagined with such colour and vigour”.

“The talent on and off screen for A Suitable Boy are exceptional and have helped to make this a series of which we are very proud,” she added.

To read more articles by Prasun Sonwalkar, click here.

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