|16 Jul 2019|
|Arts & Culture|
|The following article was published in The Sunday Times, 30 June 2019: |
The BBC is to make its first prime-time period drama that will have Asian actors in all the leading roles.
Filming is due to start this summer on an adaptation of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, which at 1,349 pages is one of the longest novels in the English language.
The six-part drama, set in post-independence India, is intended to win the Sunday night ratings war against ITV and features a plot revolving around a vast array of Indian characters.
It will be directed by Mira Nair, the Indian-American film-maker behind Monsoon Wedding, while Andrew Davies, best known for adapting Pride and Prejudice for the BBC, has been drafted in for the screenplay.
To be broadcast next year, the series is expected to have more than 100 characters. All the main roles will be played by Asians – many from India – while the handful of white characters in Seth’s book will appear only as bit parts.
House, which stars Tom Bateman playing a former member of the East India Company in the leading role. Previous hit dramas set in Asia, such as The Far Pavilions and The Jewel in the Crown, have also focused on white characters.
Davies acknowledged it was a “big departure” for the BBC, but believes mainstream viewers will still tune in. “It’s exciting,” he said. “Not many of the leading players will be known to a British audience. But it’s also like a Jane Austen novel in that it’s got a lovely, easy-to-relate-to central plot.”
As the title suggests, A Suitable Boy revolves around the desire of a middle-class Indian mother, Rupa Mehra, to marry off her youngest daughter, Lata. The Indian actress Tabu, who starred as the mother in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, is expected to play Mehra, while a Bollywood star has been cast as Lata.
Davies, who also adapted War and Peace for the BBC, is known for spicing up his dramas with sex. He described another key character in A Suitable Boy, a Muslim courtesan called Saeeda Bai, as “a glamorous older woman who we all wish we had met when we were of a formative age – to teach us what it’s all about.”