- “I came to the project three years ago,” said Meera Nair
- “Tabu is the first person I talked to in the beginning,” he said
- “I like the talent that we have,” he said
Mira Nair, winner of the 45th Toronto International Film Festival’s Jeff Skole Award at Impact Media, will again be in the news on the final night of the festival. A suitable boy, Fantastically engaging six-episode adaptation of Vikram Seth’s spread novel, The curtain will drop on TIFF 2020. BBC Studios’ production is set to premiere on Netflix soon. The director, who lives between New York, New Delhi and Kampala, discusses aspects of bringing A Suitable Boy to the screen, which made the exercise worth the time and effort that went into it. The shoot ended in mid-December just before the virus arrived, and the post-production pandemic coincided with Nair being “on three devices in my room” and the crew operating from four continents. “Technology was on our side,” she says, “besides there was Makeshifter. “
How difficult was it to collapse a 1,500-word novel into a six-hour short series? How much work did you have to do with screenwriter Andrew Davis to get into the final composition?
I came to the project three years ago when Andrew had already written the eight-hour version. I felt this was an excellent distillation. But the emphasis was more pride and Prejudice Compared to the political landscape. What I did to him – there was a lot of context with Vikram Seth – was woven political tantrums with personal ones so that as Lata finds her way, the country also becomes her own. The shift of emphasis that I brought it. But the necessary distillation was already done. This bus was re-shaped. I brought in some characters that were not present as before, for example, Mrs Mahesh Kapoor, who, in her calm, even dutiful, manner, was traditional on one level and deeply strong on the other. Was the cornerstone of that political family. She was not such a force in the earlier draft. Playing Geeta Aggarwal Sharma was a bonus.
How easy did the artists make things for you?
This was one of the reasons i did A suitable boy. I love actors. I love the talent we have. It was close to 110 characters. Everyone I fell for, and I fell for many, was with me. He said yes to everyone, but his role was small. Vijay Raj has only two scenes and he is a great star. He debuted with me at Monsoon Wedding. A lot of people started with me in this series. It was extraordinary for him that there is no ego and rightly I am like Randeep Hooda, Vijay Raj and many others. With Manoj Pahwa, the electricity bus was ashamed. I kept producing the Maharaja’s part because of this extraordinary actor. Shahna Goswami is a total spark. The way she took Meenakshi was both independent and efficient. And Tanya, it was really hard to find my creeper, because the combination of innocence and stubbornness is not something you find in today’s girls in their 20s.
How did you finally find Tanya Maniktala?
I had these amazing casting directors (Nandini Srikanth, Karan Mallya and Dilip Shankar) in Mumbai and Delhi. We maligned India. They went everywhere. We started casting Lata in 2018 as it rests on her delicate shoulders which rests perfectly. I do not count, but I would have seen a few hundred, there might be 500 girls. Also, film stars also wanted to play the role. We also went down that road. But Lata’s quality, which was very important, well, I call her ‘a malignant in action’, is that she has not seen the world, she is on the verge of seeing the world, and in that it is open – Remembering wonder combined with wisdom. I saw a very bad video image of Tanya for the first time. There were dark circles around his eyes. She was an advertising executive and it was the end of her work day. He just said something. I immediately asked Dilip Shankar who this girl is, let’s see her. When I saw him, it was very immediate! Then we placed him with Haresh Khanna and others. The spark started flying in the beautiful way that it has.
It is a search for a young girl who is looking for a suitable boy and a new born nation looking for a suitable identity. Has anything changed?
Role models for women in the 1950s were limited but powerful. I remember seeing Sushila Nayyar, also a small child who had no connection, first as part of the cabinet. It was a clear impression on me that women could lead. In a way, the leadership of women in India is much higher than in the West. There is too much democratization for women in many areas today. But I think patriarchy and violence, and the subjugation that accompanies them, is very disgraceful. Although women are in leadership positions, the main patriarchal values remain intact. Look at what’s happening in the press now – it’s very disappointing.
Is the nation still not struggling to get its real identity?
Yes, based on the seeds that were planted back. This is what is interesting about Vikram Seth’s passion. They did not just think about the freedom struggle and did not create division but also those seeds which we are still doing.
As a director, do you handle a newcomer differently than a veteran actor?
I try to create an environment in which they even feel completely safe to play a fool: a kind of purposeless and protected space. Skilled people don’t need it, but the new actor certainly does to make him feel at home. Creating that environment is a delicate process. It takes time. In the case of A suitable boy, I did a lot of rehearsals with young people, along with Ishaan and Tanya. With others, there were no full rehearsals.
The actor who plays Tasnim (Joyetta Dutta) is very interesting. She has worked with you before, hasn’t she?
I made a concert Monsoon wedding. It had 20 artists. Eighteen of them are in series. I knew that Joita would be a star. First of all, he is very good. Secondly, she is a lovely actress. Also, she looked remarkable like Tabu. She plays her younger sister. It was important for me to cast families so that they looked like families. Take Mahira Kakkar. He looks amazing like Tanya. It was important to me – how to separate the Mehras from Kapoor, Chatterjee, Khans. It took a long time because there are so many characters in each family. God bless my casting directors. He got actors from everywhere. Take Ananya Sen, who plays the minor role of Kakoli. He is a theater actor from Calcutta. I don’t think he did any films before. She is fantastic She is not like a movie star. He is like a regular person. I had been looking for faces since the 1950s. I am very happy Tanya is the TIFF 2020 Rising Star. This is a big prize. I am so happy that she is on her way. Also Ishaan Khattar. He was a magnet. He was extraordinary from the moment I auditioned him.
Apart from Lata, Mann and Saeeda Begum, which characters do you like most? A suitable boyThe
I love Meenakshi (played by Shahna Goswami). He himself is very pleased and morally upright. She does what she has to do to live life. He is greedy for life. And, of course, Saida Begum was the reason I decided to do a suitable boy. I love Ghazal so much, that culture, poetry. There was no one other than Tabu. He is the first person I said right at the beginning.
Did you give any specific instructions to the actors playing the role of invincible characters, such as Raja of Marh (Manoj Pahwa) or Home Minister Aggarwal (Vinay Pathak)?
I don’t like seeing the villain as a pure villain. With the role of Aggarwal, yes he is a right-wing man and all this, but what I tried to do – and it was not in the script, it is something that we have developed – is that when Mann is in jail And he is not allowed to go to the cremation of his mother and his father goes to Agarwal for help, he apologizes, he says he cannot do it … even Agarwal’s Heart too. When we talk of many colors it makes everything darker. It would be boring if a character only symbolized bigotry, evil of villainy. With Raja, it was different because half the time when he is soaked with alcohol, he is not on his mind. His entire life has been fulfilling his every wish. In that sense, he was less granular. You don’t get to show him the other sides. He probably did not know the other sides of himself.
Is there a particular strand of the story that you felt bad about leaving the series?
There is a complete section in the book about how Haresh Khanna believes in connecting people to his strengths. It is he who meets Kabir Durrani’s father, who is a mathematics professor, and through that meeting Kabir meets the young boy Bhaskar, a math prodigy. This is why Kabir helps identify the child at the fair where the latter is feared dead. I missed Professor Durrani, I missed that inter-restraint. Also, I cast my husband as a professor in real life, Professor Durrani as a way to see him once in two years. It took a long time to make it. I was always away from home.
A suitable boy It is weeks away from streaming on Netflix. How do you expect or react in India?
I hope they are ready for this. I hope that the story serves as a mirror for our world, for our society even today. I hope this reflects people to where we have come. I know that it has been used very harshly and economically. Unlike Indian shows, which are very long, this is a six-hour adaptation of a larger novel. So, the rhythm is slightly different. It is too early because it has to cover a lot of ground. I also like telling stories. I hope the Indian audience relates to this. Another thing, especially the way we used to speak English in the 1950s: is how I am speaking now. It is a more sophisticated and taught English. Vikram’s book gives rhythm. It’s very different from on close friend, We speak English in India today. I am just hoping that the depth and beauty of Vikram’s story and the country’s story is going to capture his imagination and his heart.
What was the first reaction to Vikram Seth’s adaptation?
His first reaction was just two words “Thank you”. He was a patron messenger through it all. He clearly cared for it deeply. He was very pleased with the cinematic quality of the adaptation. A suitable boy There is cinema and that is why I am particularly happy that TIFF is showing it on the big screen all six hours.