Tag Archives: Vikram Seth

Ishaan Khatter – A Bollywood Star In The Making

Among the next generation of upcoming actors in Bollywood, Ishaan Khatter is a relative newbie. He made his debut appearance as a leading man in the 2017 film Beyond the Clouds, a melodrama set in Mumbai’s underbelly, which won him the Best Male Debut title at India’s 2018 Filmfare awards festival. 

Ishaan is no stranger to Bollywood, however, having grown up in a family of actors, most notably his older half-brother, Shahid Kapoor. His father is veteran actor Rajesh Khatter, who is known for his roles in movies like Don, Don 2, Traffic and in several TV serials.  His mother, Neelima Azim, has also appeared in many made- for- TV serials like Phir Wahi Tailash and The Sword of Tipu Sultan, among others. Film critic Anupama Chopra recalled how she had seen Ishaan at Bollywood film premieres over the years, an eager wide-eyed youngster, avidly sponging up the world of cinema that he was being nurtured in. 

Beyond the Clouds, where Ishaan played a street hustling drug dealer fighting to save his sister from prison, got an enthusiastic nod from critics.  Next came Dhadak, the 2018 remake of Sairat, a Marathi film about young star-crossed lovers, doomed by the bloodthirsty dictates of caste prejudices (this was also Sridevi and Boney Kapoor’s daughter Jhanvi’s debut film). The film got tepid reviews, but critics and audiences liked Ishaan’s passionate portrayal of reckless young love. 

Since these first two movies, Ishaan’s growth as an actor has taken a kinetic leap across the chasm which separates performances that are quite good from those which arise through the creative churn of real talent. He has earned high praise for his recent portrayal of Maan, the non-conformist and unpredictable young firebrand in love with a local courtesan in the 2020 BBC miniseries, A Suitable Boy, Mira Nair’s adaptation of Vikram Seth’s 1993 novel. The series brings to life Seth’s intertwined saga of four wealthy Indian families and their lives post-partition in a newly independent India, still tottering to find its new, post-colonial identity.

For this interview, we talked over the virtual reality of Zoom. When Ishaan appears in my small frame on the screen, he is impeccably polite and well-spoken. He exudes a boyish, unaffected charm in person, which makes his transformation on screen into the passionate, intense character of Maan all the more entrancing.  As we talk I realize that behind the boyish façade is a great deal of thoughtful maturity in his approach to his profession.

Working with Miradi was something I’ll always cherish,” Ishaan says in response to my question about the experience of being directed by Mira Nair for the first time. 

“I was in awe of her achievements and I had seen all her films—starting with the Reluctant Fundamentalist to the Namesake. She was so approachable though, and brought so much energy and an almost child-like enthusiasm to the set which surpassed even our eagerness as the youngsters in the cast.  We were all fired up by her drive.” 

“What were Mira’s expectations for you while playing the role of Maan?” I ask Ishaan.

“She gave me enough freedom to interpret the character,” Ishaan says. “She would step in occasionally with suggestions and she knew just how to tweak a scene to get the maximum impact.” 

There was one scene he recalls, where Maan is arguing with his father about money.

Instead of raging, which was how I planned to play the scene, Mira asked me to be playful and turn the situation around. And it worked. I could totally see that it worked better than the last take.”

Another first for Ishaan involved being part of an ensemble cast in a miniseries. 

It felt like chaos sometimes. But it was organized chaos, and Miridi knew how to handle it.”

“There were two sets going at the same time with up to 114 people on them – it was quite an experience. You really have to bring your own focus on such a large set because if you don’t you’ll get lost, there are so many  actors and so much going on.”  The mature self-awareness Ishaan displays in that statement makes him sound like a seasoned veteran. 

On an ensemble set like that, with so many actors, I think I learned a lot just watching Miradi direct all of them.”   

The character of Maan intrigued me a lot,” he adds. “He is such a kaleidoscope of unfolding emotions and irreverence as he tries to find his place in the world, and he keeps everyone on tenterhooks – one can never predict what he’s going to do next. He tears through traditions and facades and doesn’t worry about the consequences, and that combination of impulsivity and idealism was fascinating in terms of the challenge of playing him. He wasn’t a linear character and I had to bring much more thought to how to be true to the role.”

Tabu with Ishaan Khattar in A Suitable Boy
Tabu with Ishaan Khatter in A Suitable Boy

Besides being unpredictable, Maan’s character is bold, promiscuous, and scandalously in love with an older woman, the courtesan, Saeeda Bai, played by Tabu.  

Which brings me to my next loaded question – how awkward it was playing a passionate lover to Tabu, who is a much older, established actress.

“I was nervous at first, because Tabu is such an icon in the industry, but she’s so delightfully easy to work with and such an experienced actress that she immediately put me at ease. We found we had the same focus on our work – we laid the groundwork with Miradi and asked all the important questions in advance. Tabu has this balance of sincerity and experience that just made me slip so easily into the role of Maan to her Saeeda Bai. The best part was that we also hit it off right from the start, and we would crack jokes and laugh, and we ended up really enjoying our time on set. She’s very receptive as an actress and just by being who she is, she gives you a lot. It was a fabulous experience working with her.” 

Within the short timeframe of our interview, I squeeze in one more question. My question is about nurturance. There is a fifteen-year age difference between Ishaan and his older brother Shahid Kapoor, and it is clear that Ishaan idolizes him as a mentor whose career has traversed the same route that his own is about to follow.

He doesn’t believe in handholding or curating my career,” states Ishaan. “He doesn’t want me to repeat his mistakes in the industry; he wants me to grow as an actor on my own terms, by learning from my own mistakes. At the same time, he’s always there with guidance, and his advice is very valuable because of the similar arc of our careers.  He became a leading man at a young age, and I got my first lead role at 21. I can learn a lot from him.”

“He’s been like a father figure almost, looking out for me. And at the same time, he’s really cool and fun and a sharp dresser, he’s such a great older brother to have.”

Ishaan’s face lights up when he talks about his brother – one can see a younger Ishaan skipping out from behind the adult façade – the eager adolescent who attended all those Bollywood premieres years ago, and dreamed one day of being with the stars. As Maan in A Suitable Boy, Ishaan Khatter is more than halfway there.

A Suitable Boy will premiere on the Acorn.TV   streaming service on Monday, December 7, with two episodes, followed by one new episode every Monday through January 4. Watch the trailer here. Sign up for a free one-week trial offer at https://signup.acorn.tv/.


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

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