For director Mira Nair, the historical backdrop of the six-part series “A Suitable Boy” serves as crucial context: the show, an adaptation of Vikram Seth’s 1993 novel, takes place a few years after World War II and the partition of the subcontinent into separate countries, India and Pakistan — the former with a majority Hindu population and the latter, majority Muslim.
While the story centers on Lata (Tanya Maniktala) — a young woman in her 20s finding her way in the world, despite her mother Rupa’s (Mahira Kakkar) insistence on finding “a suitable boy” and getting married — Nair says it’s also a story of India as a burgeoning democracy, finding its way after British rule.
“As the country seeks to find a language of its own to be free, this young girl, Lata, this 20-year-old, also seeks a language for herself to be free and to find who she is,” says Nair at Variety’s Virtual TIFF Studio presented by Canada Goose.
Nair adds that the religious tensions depicted in the series, exemplified early on when a Hindu temple is built in front of a mosque, was important for her, as they echo what continues to unfold in modern-day India.
“For me it was very important to film, because it makes our film not just a period film, it makes it a timely film in which [you can not just] relate to Lata and relatable adolescent journeys through finding who you are, but you understand that these terrible tensions that are now taking place in the country were planted there with the seeds from long ago,” says the Oscar-nominated filmmaker. “What I tried to do is to find a balance between that politic and the person.”
Nair says working with a cast of over 100 Indian actors on-location in North India was one where the cast and crew could share a cultural shorthand. It’s a special experience and one with which Nair is familiar, having been at the helm of numerous films centered on South Asian stories, including “Monsoon Wedding” and “The Namesake.”
“Many of my films are based in that environment. The fullness with which we go for it, you know, and we call it jugaar. Jugaar means the spirit that can always make it work, like any which way you put it together,” she recalls. “So that jugaar spirit is very alive and well in us all the time.”
Watch the full interview with Mira Nair at Variety’s Virtual TIFF Studio above.