Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Director Mira Nair on the world of A Suitable Boy

Ishaan Khatter and Mira Nair on the set of A Suitable Boy
Ishaan Khatter, Mira Nair
Photo: Courtesy of Acorn TV/BBC

Here’s what’s happening in the world of television for Monday, December 14. All times are Eastern.

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A Suitable Boy (Acorn, 3:01 a.m., episode 3): Last week, the BBC’s sprawling adaptation of Vikram Seth’s novel A Suitable Boy made its debut in the U.S. courtesy of streamer Acorn TV. Set in post-partition India in 1951, the series follows Lata (Tanya Maniktala), a young woman whose mother is determined to see her married to a suitable partner—but of course it’s all a lot more complicated than that. The A.V. Club spoke with Nair about her relationship to Seth’s novel, the visual language of the story, and what Lata has in common with Lady Bird.

The A.V. Club: What’s your relationship to A Suitable Boy as a reader, and how has that relationship changed since working on the series?

Mira Nair: I’ve loved this book pretty much since it was written, as almost a best friend. It’s completely captured the era of our first freedom from the British, that moment of incredible… socialism and idealism that the country experienced soon after independence, when it was trying to prepare for its national first elections. What Vikram Seth has done so beautifully is capture the true ethos of Indians in all their variety and in their verisimilitude, because we are as anglicized in some senses in the elite class as the British are, and we are trying to tear down that shackles of the Englishness that we dream in… It’s an epic that reminds us of that time in which idealism reigned, but even in the idealism, seeds of conflict between communities were planted, and we are very much seeing the results of [that] every day, especially now.

AVC: Is it fair to say that you’ve been thinking about this book as a filmmaker since you read it?

MN: Not at all. I read it as a reader—twice, I loved it so much. It inspired me, but I never even thought at that time that I would make it into a film. This was 1993. TV streaming series and long-form cinema were not in the vocabulary. I’m an independent feature filmmaker, and I never thought to make it a series.

AVC: It’s really visually stunning, right from the beginning.

MN: It is also, I have to say, an embrace of decay—to show aristocracy, but to show it warts and all, in a sense, and to embrace it. I actually love the aesthetic of peeling walls and crumbling palaces and plaster not being there. I’m working with Stephanie Carroll here, my production designer for 25 years, so this whole team knows this country, this landscape. So it’s not about doing justice to its ornateness, for instance. It’s anti-ornate for me. It’s about actually using color in a modern way. The way the courtesan lived could be so florid and over the top, but it isn’t. It’s mostly about blocks of color, almost like Rothko, with the green walls, the little bursts of blood in red velvets, and the white to set it all off.

AVC: Lata’s a wonderful heroine. As a person who loves books, is there a company of other great heroines of literature that you would put Lata in?

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MN: I mean, Jo March. I’m not a big fan of Pride And Prejudice. It’s charming, but they’re not girls that I want to hang out with all the time in the way Jo is. [Also] the young woman in Ladybird. Of course in America, it’s a very different form of expression and openness than we had in the ’50s in India at that time. You feel the same things, but you express them very differently. It’s that kind of story, of a girl who doesn’t know who she is, but who knows what she believes in.

Regular coverage

His Dark Materials (HBO, 9 p.m.)

Wild card

Tiny Pretty Things (Netflix, 3:01 a.m., complete first season): Look for Shannon Miller’s review of all the murdery ballet drama later today.

Slings & Arrows virtual reunion (Acorn, 3:01 a.m.): Critic Emily Nussbaum moderates a panel on one of the great Canadian TV shows: the heartfelt, very funny, and occasionally heartbreaking Slings & Arrows. The panel includes co-creators and actors Mark McKinney, Susan Coyne, and Bob Martin, as well as cast members Martha Burns, Luke Kirby, and Paul Gross. Acorn also has the series in its library, and if you’ve never had the pleasure, we are so happy for you to discover its greatness.

The Bachelorette (ABC, 8 p.m., special night): Tayshia picks her final four dudes and (sigh) the Men Tell All. If things get truly bonkers in this, the weirdest season in Bachelor Nation history, we’ll sound the klaxon and convene an emergency roundtable; otherwise, feel free to head over to our sister site The Takeout for their suitably surreal coverage.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves TV, bourbon, and overanalyzing social interactions. Please buy her book, How TV Can Make You Smarter (Chronicle, 2020). It’s short!