By Maya Palit
The BBC was recently told by the TV regulator Ofcom that its shows were too middle class, too white, and not ‘edgy’ enough. And soon after, it announced its first period drama ever featuring a non-white cast: an adaptation of Vikram Seth’s celebrated novel A Suitable Boy.
Almost a decade ago, a slightly bizarre Guardian review (which describes Seth’s accent as containing the promise of ‘Oriental dreaminess’ and ‘Old-World manners’) compared the sprawling work to a Victorian novel, not least because “It is a love story with little love and no sex”. Which is funny because in the novel, the character Amit talks about hating long books still ‘bear[ing] the scars of Middlemarch’. He also adds that Proust made him weep.
But the 1300 or so pages of Seth’s the novel have a lot else going for them too. Set in post-independent India, in the midst of land reforms, a fading zamindari system, and communal trouble, it is your quintessential family saga, following the trajectories of four families over almost two years, and one overbearing (and prone to blackmail) mother’s quest to find a husband for her daughter Lata.
Unsurprising then, that the BBC seems pretty keen to take on this ‘gamble’ with a non-white cast, because the core themes of the book are universal enough. And while we’re waiting to see what screenwriter Andrew Davies (the same guy who adapted Pride and Prejudice and War and Peace for TV) does with the novel, a certain Delhi wallah has already drawn up a list of potential suitable boys who might make the cut as characters in the adaptation, while others are lobbying for Kangana Ranaut to play Lata.