Tag Archives: Namit Das

A Charming Fantasy About The Good Old Days

There is something about the first few decades of India’s incarnation as an independent nation which holds a romantic fascination for our collective desi imagination.  One thinks of a world of black and white movies, of carved wooden swings creaking gracefully in colonial style verandahs, and of blue skies unadulterated by a haze of pollutants. Those early post-independence decades evoke memories of koyels singing after glorious monsoons, and images of young innocent girls in elegant embroidered saris with lips unblemished by lipstick, with long thick braids sporting dainty parandhas. Their colleges, if they were allowed higher education, were waiting rooms for their supreme goal of marriage.

A Suitable Boy is a charming ode to those Indian fantasies about the ‘good old days.’ Written by Andrew Davies and directed by Mira Nair, the six-part series, on Netflix later this year, is based on Vikram Seth’s 1993 book of the same name. It reproduces a suitably aesthetic, decorated version of that newly independent era in the 1950’s, when a young nation’s hope was alive and throbbing. However, being a Mira Nair production, it also takes a few sly swipes at the pretensions and the peculiarities of the times.

The series follows the intertwined fate of four upper crust Indian families– the Mehras, the Kapoors, the Khans and the Chatterjees. These are the Indian elite, the IAS officers, the zamindars, the movers and shakers of Indian politics.

The story follows the enchanting ingenue Lata Mehra (Tanya Maniktala), a 19-year old university student forced to choose a suitable husband from three potential suitors.

It starts of course, with a wedding! No Indian series, particularly one produced by the BBC, is considered authentically Indian these days without a Big Fat Indian Wedding popping up somewhere.

The bride is Kavita (Rasika Dugal), Lata’s older sister, who is being married off to the staid, bespectacled professor son of Mahesh Kapoor (Ram Kapoor), the Revenue Minister of Brahmpur, a fictional city near Lucknow.

I don’t see any big thrills on the wedding night, do you?” quips Meenakshi (Shahana Goswami) Lata’s sister-in-law, and we know we are in a Mira Nair film, with tart asides and irreverent moments that liven the humdrum, bourgeois setting.

Gentle satire is Nair’s forte – Lata’s older brother Arun (Vivek Gomber) waves a hand at the wedding assembly and declares in a snobbish British accent, “Look around you! A sea of brown,” upon which his younger brother Varun (Vivaan Shah), retorts, “Just like us!”

Lata’s mother Rupa (Mahira Kakkar) is dead set on finding a suitable boy for Lata, before her daughter turns 21 – the median age for spinsterhood according to Rupa.

You have to marry a boy I choose for you, just like I chose for your sister,” she harangues Lata.

Lata on the other hand, is one step ahead of mum and bolder than her era permits. She falls in love with Kabir (Danesh Razvi), who thrills her but wrecks her peace of mind, and who turns out to be Muslim – strong indications of a ‘big romance’.

While Lata wrestles with social taboos, Rupa suggests another sensible option – Haresh Khanna (Namit Das), a footwear businessman who represents the rising class of aspirational Indians building on opportunities in their newly minted country.  And since good (or bad) news comes in threes, Meenakshi presents her brother Amit (Mikhail Sen), as another option.

There is no better way to aim a wide-angle lens at a culture’s norms and idiosyncrasies than the process of getting a daughter married.  Lata has to choose between running away with Kabir, her forbidden Muslim boyfriend, or marrying Amit (an affected, narcissistic, English poet, who embodies the Anglophilic legacy of the Raj), or settling for her mother’s  favorite – the ambitious, pragmatic, paan-chewing entrepreneur Haresh Khanna, whom Arun contemptuously calls ‘that shoemaker.’

Weaving in and out of Lata’s story is a parallel thread involving the Revenue Minister’s black sheep son, Maan Kapoor (Ishaan Khattar), who indulges in wayward behavior such as pushing  the Home Minister into a fountain under the pretext of playing Holi, and falling in obsessive love with local ghazal queen and courtesan, Saeeda Bai (Tabu). Mahesh Kapoor is just as bent on making a man out of this family embarrassment as Maan is on resisting respectability.

Added to the mix are the Khans, a landed Nawabi family of Brahmpur whose  friendship with the Kapoors predates the partition. This bond is further cemented by the one between Maan Kapoor and Firoz Ali Khan (Shubham Saraf), Khan’s son, a connection between the families that holds steady despite deep cracks appearing in religious harmony between Hindus and Muslims. The scenes of a Shiv temple being erected right next to a masjid give the viewer a chilling sensation of time collapsing, evoking memories of Babri Masjid–– it could be a communal riot scene from 2020.

The heart of the series, however, lies with the marital misadventures of Lata and the lovesick shenanigans of the Saeeda Bai-obsessed Maan Kapoor.  A Suitable Boy does not attempt social commentary or thoughtful insight into the consequences of Independence. All the poverty and drudgery of the 1950’s, the Zamindari Abolition Acts which tried to free oppressed peasantry, the  rise of the communist party and the sowing of the political seeds of communalism, are sketched in like incidental fillers to the main theme – a recreation of the 1950’s with vivid cinematography, great acting, and the romance of forbidden love and  difficult choices, leading to some critics calling it an orange-filtered version of India

A Suitable Boy was a first for a BBC production – a drama on colonial India with an entirely Indian cast, and the compelling performances of the cast hold the series aloft like the Tiranga, the tricolor national flag.

Ram Kapoor and Tabu give accomplished performances and newcomer Tanya Maniktala captivates and delights as Lata. (The story of how Tanya, a young, 22-year-old copywriter in Delhi landed the lead in Mira Nair’s production, is a fairy tale in itself.)

The series has received some flak from Indian reviewers for its mannered English accents and attempts to sound ‘browner.’  With the 21st century craving for authenticity in cinematic depictions, whether it’s accents or settings, the tradition of speaking beautifully enunciated English in an Indian setting for the pleasure of a Western ear occasionally jars, the way a missing button on a costume would. Mira Nair softens the blow with occasional snatches of Hindi and Urdu. In the final analysis, the accents don’t detract from the crafted charm of the story which is the kind of escape to a faraway place of beauty and intrigue that we all sorely need in these challenging times.


Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing Editor at India Currents

Female Anger Explodes in Pataakha

Boom. Female anger explodes on the Hindi cinema screen in full frontal glory in Pataakha (2018). Who other than Vishal Bhardwaj for the job? The writer-director tackles women’s energy head on, by exploring a tempestuous relationship between two sisters, Badki and Chutki, with black humor. The mad hatter concept suspends the viewer straight into disbelief, thankfully with no hint of an apology for the fights.

I was the only audience in an empty theatre. Years ago, it was Luck By Chance (2009), Zoya Akhtar’s fantastic debut, which she hasn’t been able to surpass since. No surprises there, that the box office has little to garner from angry female leads. Pretty much like Republican Senators, who ignored the anguish of Christine Blasey Ford and anger of female protesters to confirm Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination.

According to expert Taran Adarsh, Pataakha collected 7.64 crores in its first week. Sui Dhaaga (2018), which released the same Friday, crossed 62.5 crores. Hardly a surprise, that. Nothing gets the cash registers ringing better than a woman who radiates good old manipulation, docility, and subordination.

Walk in with a stash of popcorn and Coke then to experience the messy goodness of Genda ‘Chhutki’ Kumari (Sanya Malhotra) and Champa ‘Badki’ Kumari (Radhika Madan) who are fiery, gritty, and spunky from start to finish. The movie starts with a paisa wasool mud scuffle over a beedi, sparked by their neighbor Dipper Naradmuni (Sunil Grover) and doused by their single father Bechara Bapu (Vijay Raaz). The relationship is fragile and competitive as they battle over clothes, a sticky forced-marriage, a smartphone, and even television. Dipper, the meddlesome Naradmuni, regularly snitches and pits them against each other, with wicked glee.

Badki and Chutki are authentic, scruffy, and imperfect as much as they are wild, spontaneous, and unpredictable. They rule their surroundings with confidence and abandon. The fury of a woman, usually confined and restrained, finds a visual arena to manifest itself externally in color. Love, love, love. Without Ranjan Palit’s colorful camerawork, this would not have been possible.

A dynamic first half shows their childhood and young adult romance. They both find men of their choice in charming romances — Chutki meets Vishnu (Abhishek Duhan) in a field and Badki encounters Jagan (Namit Das) near the river. Meanwhile, a lecherous old man, Tharki Patel (Saanand Verma) tries to score one of them as his wife, in exchange for a loan to Bapu. The girls are in a dilemma; Dipper eggs them on, but also saves them.

Post interval and wedding, the pair is confined to the same house, after they unknowingly marry brothers. After a promise to their father, they also feel obliged to stop fighting and settle into the routine of domestic life. Until they don’t. Dipper sets them off again, this time they push their husbands into a family fight. The reason behind their combustible equation is revealed in the end.  

The story is fresh and straightforward, with crispy dialogue, laughs, twists and turns. Vishal picks Charan Singh Pathik’s short story Do Behnein, based on real-life antics of wives of his brothers, published by Sahitya Kala Academy. The siblings’ divide is even compared to that between feuding neighbors India and Pakistan. The songs Pataakha, Balma, Gali, and Naina Banjare adorn the narrative seamlessly. But why jar the flow with Hello Hello, the Malaika Arora item song?

The movie rests on the excellent performances. Saanand Verma plays creepy well. Namit Das and Abhishek Duhan make a mark. Sunil Grover is superbly layered with his grey shade character. Vijay Raaz scores perfect, balancing his daughters’ energetic fights with restrained ease.  Sanya Malhotra is back with a bang and Radhika Madan makes sterling big screen debut. The actors are flawless; they hold their own individually and are crackling together.

Pataakha is super fun and entertaining. It could have been more, and falls just short of achieving greatness. Yet the importance of the red carpet it rolls out to normalize anger in women is noteworthy. Pity the audience isn’t biting.

3.5 out of 5

Pataakha. Writer & Director: Vishal Bhardwaj. Players: Sanya Malhotra, Radhika Madan, Vijay Raaz, Namit Das, Abhishek Duhan. Music: Vishal Bhardwaj. Theatrical release: KYTA Productions, Vishal Bhardwaj Films.

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women, and social equity.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor, Geetika Pathania Jain.