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Mira Nair’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ Trailer Has The Audience Frowning At The ‘Unsuitable’ Accent Of Its Indian Cast

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Movie adaptations of popular literary works are often the subject of debate. The books are always better, some say, while others find it hard to reconcile the reel world with the one they’ve constructed in their own imagination. Nevertheless, there’s always excitement and anticipation when a literary classic like Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy gets adapted into a TV series by an illustrious filmmaker like Mira Nair. The Monsoon Wedding director’s six-part series for UK’s BBC One is all set to premiere this month. The trailer gave us a glimpse into the post-Independence and post-Partition world inhabited by Seth’s characters, played here by Tanya Manaktala, Ishaan Khatter, Tabu, Ram Kapoor, Namit Das, Rasika Duggal, Shahana Goswami, Randeep Hooda, Vijay Varma and others.

However, the Indian audience is a tad displeased because everything about the trailer screams that this is a foreign interpretation of Indian culture. That too, in an accent that is reminiscent of most Indian characters in international productions. How do I know this? Apart from the fact that I have ears, all it took was a peep at the comments on YouTube. There are plenty pointing out how the Indian actors have taken on this weird accent when talking in English, which makes them sound like Apu from The Simpsons. And for those who didn’t get the memo, that’s a culturally misappropriated character and not great to be compared to.

The trailer is set to American electronic music producer Jai Wolf’s ‘Indian Summer’, his debut single that is immensely popular. Here, coupled with the warm colour palette of the series, it perhaps serves the purpose of instantly familiarising international audiences with the Indian-ness of the story. And while some might be gung-ho about it, there are those who think the choice of music is kaafi mainstream.

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Now look here, we Indians do have a thing with accents. I was one of those people who mocked Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra when I heard their change every time they were cast in international productions. But I realised that after binge-watching an American or British show’s 5+ seasons, I too tend to pick up random phrases and just a smidge of an accent. So sure, it could be hard to speak English like we normally do here at home, when you know you’re conscious about acting in a British production intended for an international audience.

Considering the novel was written in English and the fact that the Indian society and its people’s mannerisms were at that time still highly influenced by British culture, I don’t have much qualms about the series not being in Hindi. The weird accent, however, does seem to dull the charm. Especially since all the actors are Indian! It’s not like they’ve to try hard to sound Indians speaking English!

Furthermore, there were a few complaints about the trailer seemingly brimming with stereotypes. But this being an adaptation of a novel set in a specific time period in India, that would feel a little too misjudged or rushed. We’ll reserve our judgement on that until we get to watch the series ourselves. With Andrew Davies, acclaimed for his adaptations of literary classics for British television (War & Peace, Pride & Prejudice, House of Cards, Vanity Fair, Bridget Jones’ Diary and others), we could have a little faith that the story was in good hands.

About A Suitable Boy, the novel

Image Source: Wikipedia

Vikram Seth’s 1993 novel, A Suitable Boy, is considered one of the longest English language novels ever published in a single volume. Its roughly 1350 pages are divided into 19 parts, with each part focussing on a particular sub-plot. The main protagonist is Lata (Tanya Manaktala), a 19-year-old university student whose mother sets out to find a suitable boy for marriage for her daughter.

Over the course of the story, that spans 18 months, Lata has three suitors with varying levels of interest and relationships with her. Despite her mother’s dominance, Lata is an assertive girl who wants to make her own decisions, and therefore must choose between the three boys. A parallel story, also highlighted in the series, is the life of Maan Kapoor (Ishaan Khatter), Lata’s sister’s brother-in-law and the son of a politician (Ram Kapoor), and his clandestine love affair with courtesan Saeeda Bai (Tabu).

Set during the period preceding Independent India’s first general elections, Seth also offers a keen, and often satirical, perspective on the socio-political issues that were rampant in the early 50s—from the caste struggle, to Hindu-Muslin conflict, familial relations, women’s issues and so on.

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