A fascination with Vice-President elect Kamala Harris could drive American audiences towards Mira Nair’s mini-series “A Suitable Boy,” the director says.
Based on Vikram Seth’s epic 1993 novel, the series follows the Mehra family and their associates as they go about the process of finding a husband for 19-year-old university student Lata Mehra (newcomer Tanya Maniktala), against the backdrop of the 1951 general elections in newly independent India.
The series aired on the BBC in July and began streaming in several territories on Netflix, excluding North America, in October. AMC Networks’ Acorn TV acquired the series for North America, as revealed by Variety.
“Certainly what we show in ‘A Suitable Boy,’ that extraordinary idealism of the fifties that created a free India and the first elections, is something that I have never seen in America about the sub-continent,” the Indian director tells Variety.
“It’s going to be a new chapter, I think, for several American audiences,” adds Nair. “And maybe because of Kamala Harris, there’s a greater fascination with the ‘from where we came’ kind of thing.”
Nair revealed that she is re-releasing her acclaimed 1991 study of race relations, “Mississippi Masala,” starring Denzel Washington and Sarita Chowdhury, in 2021, to commemorate the film’s 30th anniversary, and in honor of Harris.
“It is like an anthem to her because she’s like a child of that film in some ways,” says Nair. “It’s also been an interesting hook with people here [in the U.S.] wanting to know about the sub-continent. I hope that ‘A Suitable Boy’ will plug into that curiosity.”
The filmmaker, whose credits include “Monsoon Wedding” and “Queen of Katwe,” describes the series as a coming of age story, both for its characters and also India, the country.
“A Suitable Boy” is set in a simpler time, both “aesthetically more beautiful and spiritually simpler,” as Nair describes it. The novel, and the book, both portray sectarian divisions in 1951, which is relevant in the India of today, nearly 70 years after.
Recently, the series attracted a police complaint in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh because it portrays a Hindu and Muslim kissing against the backdrop of a Hindu temple. Nair had no comment on that complaint, which fizzled out. Madhya Pradesh is home to Khajuraho, a UNESCO World Heritage Site housing a group of Hindu and Jain temples that feature erotic sculptures.
“I think Vikram also intended in his novel to have it be a mirror of our world today, of that society today, that the scenes of what we’re seeing today were planted then,” says Nair. “And now we’re seeing them in all their ugliness really, and their ways of dividing us, when actually the strength of India and the strength of the sub-continent is an extremely plural culture — an extremely interwoven, syncretic culture — which is steadily being destroyed, but should never be forgotten.”
“I think that even in terms of the world seeing it, this nationalism — this rise of ‘us and them’ — is all over the world now, almost more exacerbated by COVID and everything else,” says Nair.
Next up for Nair is “Monsoon Wedding,” the musical based on her 2001 Venice Golden Lion-winning film. The global rollout dates will depend on when theaters are ready to welcome audiences.
Nair’s next film will be “Amri,” a biopic of Hungarian-Indian painter Amrita Sher-Gil, from a script being written by “Son of Saul” and “Sunset” scribe Clara Royer. Nair is producing it with Samudrika Arora (“A Call To Spy”), with production pencilled in for mid-2021 between Hungary, India and Paris.
Also in the works is an Amazon series adaptation of “The Jungle Prince of Delhi,” based on a New York Times article and podcast detailing the story of deposed aristocrats living in a ruined palace in the Indian capital. Nair describes the project as “a wonderful, fantastic opera on trauma and diaspora and the human mind.”
“A Suitable Boy” streams on Acorn TV from Dec. 7.