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India A Suitable Boy: Critics welcome first BBC drama with all-Asian cast

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india A Suitable Boy

Image caption

Lead character Lata Mehra is played by Indian actress Tanya Maniktala

BBC One’s new drama A Suitable Boy was largely welcomed by critics after its first episode was broadcast on Sunday.

The series, which is directed by Mira Nair, follows the story of a spirited university student coming of age in North India in 1951.

Andrew Davies’s adaptation of Vikram Seth’s vast novel is the BBC’s first drama to feature an all-Asian cast.

TV critics have called it everything from “groundbreaking” to “cheesy”.

The Daily Mail’s Christopher Stevens was full of praise for the show, awarding it five stars.

“Generations divided by love, scandal and secrets – tick! Extravagant costumes and ostentatious wealth flaunted by two sparring families with million-dollar hairdos – tick! A wrestling match that ends with a plunge into the pool – tick!” he wrote.

The Guardian’s Chitra Ramaswamy also enjoyed the drama, but with a caveat. “It is beautiful, expensive and groundbreaking in its casting, yet Andrew Davies’s adaptation of Vikram Seth’s tome still feels uncomfortably old-school,” she said.

“This may be the first Indian period drama of its kind in British TV history, but it remains an India that a British audience is used to seeing.”

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An average of 4.6 million viewers watched the first episode on Sunday night

“A zesty new drama with a slight hint of cheese,” was how Carol Midgley of The Times described it.

“It was an episode full of colour, energy and life, which improved as it went on. Despite the odd corny moment, I enjoyed it and, FYI, episode two is not a disappointment. Our new Sunday night drama also has the added merit of not being The Luminaries,” she said.

The first episode of A Suitable Boy was watched by an average live audience of 4.6 million on Sunday night.

India ‘Indian family saga’

On the show, in a newly independent India, passionate literature student Lata Mehra (played by Indian actress Tanya Maniktala) is torn between family duty and the promise of romance as three very different men try to win her heart.

It stars a cast of Indian actors including Tabu, Ishaan Khatter, Rasika Dugal, and Ram Kapoor.

Some felt, however, that the dialogue would’ve benefitted from having been conducted in their mother tongue throughout, with added English subtitles.

Writer Furquan Akhtar tweeted: “The romance comes alive when they speak Hindi. Tabu is a phenomenal actor. Ishaan Khatter will be a huge star and their chemistry is brilliant.”

In her review in The Guardian, Ramaswamy said: “The cast mostly speaks English, with a smattering of Urdu and Hindi, and in India there has been some scoffing at the accents.

“These are the oddities of the genre: no one spoke Russian in Davies’s War and Peace, either. It is just that in the midst of our cultural reckoning, the old ways are starting to look downright weird.”

The Independent’s Ed Cumming thought it was a “bright and comprehensible” offering, if not a little inauthentic.

He said it was “an orange-filtered fantasy version of India, where the characters speak English with the same mannered Indian accents and nobody can do anything without a sitar twanging.”

“This adaptation of Vikram Seth’s epic, 1300-page novel seemed promising, but we’ll have to keep waiting for an Indian family saga of rugged verisimilitude,” he added in his three-star review.

Authenticity was a key word for writer Vikram Seth, who worked with Nair and Davies on the TV version of his book. He told the BBC he hopes it will have universal appeal, but that it was more important to give a truthful account.

“I hope so. At any rate, I don’t think one should consciously try to be all-inclusive or universal. If a story is authentic and authentically depicted, it will reach its audience,” he said.

“Love, hate, ambition, power, possession, death, remorse, tenderness – these are universal themes and emotions, no matter where or when one finds them, or whether one finds them in a sari or a sarong.”

Anita Singh of The Telegraph declared it a job well done, dishing out four stars while calling the programme “sumptuous Sunday night fare”.

“Andrew Davies has stripped away all the fat from Vikram Seth’s enormous novel and left us with a gorgeous TV drama,” she wrote.

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