How BBC One's A Suitable Boy differs from the much-loved novel

Priyanka Patel
·3 min read
Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

From Digital Spy

BBC One's A Suitable Boy, based on Vikram Seth's bestseller, aired its first episode on Sunday.

The TV adaptation features an all South Asian cast, from newcomer Tanya Maniktala, who plays university student Lata, to Ishaan Khatter, who plays Maan, a young lover who is a politician's son, to the legendary Tabu, who plays courtesan Saeeda Bai.

The 1,300-page book explores post-partition India's cultural norms as well as combining satire with romance. With such a huge scope and scale, it's not possible to fit all those pages into a six-part period drama. Here's what they left out.

The show doesn't address India's partition

Photo credit: Lookout Point/TAHA AHMAD - BBC
Photo credit: Lookout Point/TAHA AHMAD - BBC

The British left India in 1947 and the subcontinent was separated into two nation states: India and Pakistan. A Suitable Boy is set in 1951, with the newly-independent India preparing for its first general election.

The opening credits say: "When India became independent in 1947, it was partitioned into two countries, India was free but the land and the people were divided forever."

The pre-partition phase isn't portrayed in the first episode, which could have given more context as to why the relationship between Hindus and Muslims is so polarised. It would have been nice to see the pre-partition era and the change in society as they phased into post-partition.

Comparisons to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

When writing A Suitable Boy, former Oxford Eng Lit student Seth was inspired by Jane Austen, particularly Elizabeth Bennet, and he portrayed similar qualities in Lata: charm, quick wit and independence (not to mention their overbearing mothers).

However, in the first episode Lata is perceived as more innocent and sweet, and she's certainly not one to rely on an instant first impression.

The book doesn't mention sexual passions

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

The characters in the book do not apparently experience sexual passion or energy. This is because passion is deliberately marginalised as part of the moral contrivance of the novel.

Within South Asian communities, sex is seen as a taboo, and all the families are eager to get their daughters married off once she is of age. There is a lot at stake, from religion to politics, while the show presents the lust for power as opposed to love and tolerance.

Maan is not as innocent as he is portrayed

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

In the opening episode, Maan is seen as 'the heartthrob' as he falls for an older woman. However, as he is the politician's son, all is not what it seems. Even the innocent ones have a violent streak in them.

Where is Kalpana?

One of the characters missing from the show is Kalpana Gaur, a family friend of the Mehras. According to Bookrag, Kalpana is Mrs Mehra's (Lata's mum) friend who helps her to find Lata's suitable boy.

Within this part, Kalpana suggests someone but he is too tall so Rupa rejects him. Kalpana is basically an additional matchmaker to the story, but isn't included within the show... What a shame.

The book is written in English

Within the show, the characters speak Hindu and Urdu from time to time. English veteran screenwriter Andrew Davies wrote the script. Some felt he wasn't the right person, as the dialogue mixed with mother-tongue languages made it "inauthentic".

Having the right balance is crucial, as the show is still catering for a British Asian audience.

A Suitable Boy airs on BBC One every Sunday and is available on BBC IPlayer.

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