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A Suitable Boy: BBC’s first historical drama with no white characters packs punch

© Lookout Point/Supriya KantakA Suitable Boy.
A Suitable Boy.

Even as actress Tanya Maniktala signed the contract for A Suitable Boy, she still could not believe she had bagged the role of Lata Mehra.

Based on the classic novel of the same name by Vikram Seth, the vibrant new series – which is reportedly the BBC’s first historical drama with no white characters – is set in India in 1951, when the country is on a journey towards its first national democratic election.

It is a moving tale of life and love, following four interwoven families. And, as the latest big-budget, Sunday night period drama from Pride And Prejudice and War & Peace screenplay writer Andrew Davies, there’s a lot of hype surrounding the show.

“I was working as a copywriter and I was very happy with my life,” recalls rising star Maniktala, 23, when we discussed how she became involved with the project.

“A friend called and asked me to come for an audition, but didn’t tell me what it was for.

“I get goosebumps now when I remember showing up for the audition and how it was for A Suitable Boy and the role of Lata.”

Lata is a 19-year-old university student who, thanks to old traditions and an overbearing mother who wants to find her a suitable husband, seems to have her life already mapped out.

But the teenager embodies the modern and newly independent India in which she is coming of age, and is determined to do things her own way.

“She’s a very open-minded girl, and that’s something I really relate to – she’s not afraid of making mistakes,” notes Maniktala, who first got into acting when studying at Delhi University.

Ishaan Khatter, 25, from Mumbai, plays Maan Kapoor, who is connected to Lata through their siblings’ marriage.

A wayward yet charming young man, whose father is a politician, he wants every drop of excitement from life and has little sense of responsibility.

An important plot point is Maan’s romance with the beautiful courtesan Saeeda Bai, played by Indian screen legend Tabu. He is infatuated with this glamorous, older woman, even though their relationship could have catastrophic consequences.

“Saeeda is completely overwhelmed at the fact that this young boy, from a respectable, political family, is madly in love with her because she knows too much about life and the world,” explains 49-year-old Tabu, who was born in Hyderabad.

“She’s trying to protect herself from the love that she feels, and the love that she’s receiving from him.”

A Suitable Boy, BBC 1, tonight, 9pm