“A Suitable Boy,” the six-part series based on Vikram Seth’s 1993 novel, is set against the backdrop of 1950s India, a country finding its identity as a nascent democracy and following its partition into two countries, India and Pakistan. Filmed on location in northern India with a cast of over 100 Indian actors, it has already been regarded as a groundbreaking example of inclusive storytelling: it’s the first BBC period drama to star an all non-white cast.
So, when it was announced in 2017 that Welsh screenwriter Andrew Davies would be adapting the book into a series, critics raised concerns about whether a white writer could — or had the right to — effectively tackle such culturally specific material.
The criticism was not unwarranted, said director Mira Nair. “I understood when it came out that we were now at the rage of this moment where this has to be questioned, as always is the case,” she said in Variety’s Virtual TIFF Studio presented by Canada Goose. “But I felt also very reinforced by my own vision of knowing our subcontinent, knowing what I needed to do, as well as Vikram’s endorsement of it.”
Seth defended Davies’ hiring in July in an interview with the Telegraph, saying that race “should have nothing to do with it.” Davies is known for his work in period dramas, including 1995’s “Pride and Prejudice” and the original U.K. version of “House of Cards.”
Nair said that by the time she had signed on to direct, scripts for the series had already been banked. “To be fair, I mean, when I got involved the eight scripts were already written for eight hours, and I did think that they were very interesting, very masterful but light distillation. And I wanted much more to be involved… in the politics of the piece,” she recalled (the show was eventually whittled down to six hours). “Andrew was very porous and welcoming and receptive.”
She called Davies a “wonderful craftsperson” and their working relationship a “harmonious journey,” before adding, “But if one were to do it again, it would be interesting to approach it in a different way.”
“A Suitable Boy” will close out the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, where Nair will also be honored with the Jeff Skoll Award in Impact Media. Watch the full interview with Mira Nair above.