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A Suitable Boy: everything you need to know about the BBC’s sumptuous new period drama

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Love and loathing in 1950s India: the BBC’s new adaptation of Vikram Seth’s novel A Suitable Boy is a period drama treasure you won’t want to miss.

There’s nothing like a Sunday night period drama for balm in these troubled times. And luckily, BBC One’s new billing for the coveted slot promises to be as enthralling as ever.

A Suitable Boy is a new six-part series based on the classic novel by Vikram Seth, and adapted by Andrew Davies, the man behind TV hits such as House of Cards and the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice.

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At its core, A Suitable Boy is a love story, and also a family saga, set against the backdrop of brewing political and religious tension.

It’s set in 1950s India, as the country grapples with its newfound independence and carves out an identity for itself in a post-colonial era of giddying freedom and opportunity.

Combining vivid cinematography with stellar performances from an all-Indian cast, the BBC drama has all the hallmarks of an unmissable Sunday night watch. Draw up that sofa – here’s everything you need to know. 

What’s the story behind A Suitable Boy?

A Suitable Boy interweaves themes of love, family and relationships in 1950s India

A Suitable Boy is adapted from the bestselling book by Vikram Seth, which, at over 1,500 pages, is one of the longest novels in the English language. 

At its heart, it is a love story, charting the attempts of fiery university student Lata, whose reluctant attempts to find a suitable husband are overshadowed by her larger-than-life family; particularly her mother, Rupa Mehra.

Inevitably, mother and daughter have very different ideas of what a good match looks like, and Lata’s defiance of her mother via a relationship with a Muslim man lead to one of the series’ most emotive, and gut-wrenching, scenes. 

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The drama also follows the story of Maan Kapoor, the charismatic son of a politician whose obsession with Saeeda Bai, a beautiful courtesan twice his age (the couple are pictured above), sends shockwaves through society. 

Both plotlines play out against the backdrop of a newly independent India, as it prepares for its first general election as a free nation while also facing the bloody legacy of its partition from neighbouring Pakistan. Growing tensions between India’s Hindu and Muslim communities also form a subtext for the drama’s darker moments.

Themes of friendship and family life interweave with tragedy, love, wit and sectarian violence for one rollercoaster ride of a story that is as timeless as it is addictive to watch.

Who is adapting A Suitable Boy for TV?

Andrew Davies adapted Pride and Prejudice to TV

Author Seth chose screenwriter Andrew Davies to adapt his novel to TV, after the two shared a long, boozy brainstorming lunch together at The Ivy. Davies’ previous work includes House of Cards, the 1995 edition of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, and recent ITV period drama hit Sanditon.

Davies also brought Les Misérables to BBC TV, along with Leo Tolstoy’s epic masterclass War and Peace – so he is no stranger to the challenges of adapting huge novels to the small screen.

“It has been a total joy to work on, and I hope that audiences will love it as much as I do,” Davies told the Radio Times, of his work on A Suitable Boy.

Who directs A Suitable Boy?

Indian-American director Mira Nair, the woman behind the films Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake, has stepped on-board to direct the BBC series. She’s an old friend of the book’s author, Seth, and has vowed not to make the adaptation a “sterile” museum throwback to the past, but instead aims for an authentic vision of India at one of the most critical points in her history. 

“I love the book, and I love writers who have this astute view of India — clear-eyed and truthful, but full of wit and politics,” Nair tells The Times. “I’ve always walked this tightrope of trying to make things about this throbbing and insane country of ours, but to make it intelligible and accessible, even desirable for an international audience.”

Who stars in A Suitable Boy?

Author Vikram Seth, director Mira Nair and screenwriter Andrew Davies pose with the three stars of the BBC's A Suitable Boy

The cast is led by newcomer Tanya Maniktala, who previously studied theatre at college before taking on the series’ star role as Lata.

Upcoming Bollywood star Ishaan Khatter plays Maan Kapoor, the politician’s son who becomes entangled in an ill-fated affair. The role of his lover, the elegant Saeeda Bai, is played by Tabassum Hashmi, an acclaimed Indian film star who has a long list of international language films to her name. Known by her huge fan base as “Tabu”, Hashmi has worked with director Mira Nair before on 2006’s The Namesake, and she also appeared in Life of Pi.

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Mahira Kakkar takes on the part of Lata’s mother, Rupa Mehra, while Bollywood actor Rasika Dugal portrays Lata’s sister, Savita Mehra Kapoor.

“It’s very important that it’s an all-Indian cast. This is an Indian story and our story to tell,” Maniktala, as the drama’s lead, says. “I feel it’s the only way to do justice to this story and this book.”

Is there a trailer for A Suitable Boy

There sure is – immerse yourself in the drama, below.

When and where is A Suitable Boy released?

A Suitable Boy, a six-part drama, starts Sunday 26 July at 9pm on BBC One. Clear your diary and get set now. 

Images: BBC/ Lookout Point

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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