The much talked about series directed by Mira Nair – “A Suitable Boy” is finally streaming on Netflix this month. While I saw it in August, here’s me re-sharing a comparison between the Vikram Seth book and it’s onscreen adaptation.

Let me begin by saying that I enjoyed watching the series but felt it was a little too rushed and needed a few more episodes. Here are just some of the changes (both big and small) I noticed —

  1. Lata, one of the central characters in the book was described to be dark. It’s something that really catches your attention because there are some snide remarks made about her skin colour in the very first few pages, like how the colour pink doesn’t really suit her. Her mother fears that she would have ‘black grandchildren’. However, in Mira Nair’s adaptation, the actor playing Lata is quite light-skinned, in fact, she is fairer than most of the other cast. It was unfortunate that Nair did not cast a darker actor to play the role, considering how Lata is said to be very attractive despite the colour of her skin.
  2. Since the actor playing Lata in the series is ‘fair’ (for the lack of a better word), obviously all the mean remarks about her skin colour do not make it to the adaptation either. Almost each time the actor appeared on the screen I would think “too fair”.
  3. Which brings me to another related disparity — her elder sister Savita is said to be fairer in the book and even more lovely to look at. That’s not the case in the series.
  4. Pran, the English professor who Savita is married to, was said to be very thin and sickly in the book. In the series, the actor looks stocky and is rather well built.
  5. I remember how there was some sort of “beauty and the beast” kind of comparison between Pran and Savita in the book. Savita is said to be light-skinned and beautiful, while Pran is dark and not very attractive. But the actors playing the roles don’t look mismatched at all.
  6. Lata’s best friend Malati was a disappointment, she was not as charming and quick-witted. Also, while Malati was said to have a better sense of dress than Lata, in the series, she is quite frumpy and Lata is dressed a lot smartly than her at all times.
  7. One of the most fun scenes in the book, the one where Maan, Pran’s younger brother is shown to go quite wild on the day of holi is given a major twist. While in the book, Maan goes to Pran’s house with his friend to play holi; in the series the holi celebrations takes place entirely at their father’s residence, who is also the state revenue minister.
  8. In the book, Maan harasses a senior professor by drowning him in water at Pran’s place on Holi day. In the series he humiliates the Home Minister instead — by drowning him in a water fountain. The incident leads to further rivalry between the two ministers.
  9. This might seem like a very minor detail, but what struck me right when I saw the trailer was that Lata constantly wears sleeveless blouses with her sarees. There is a scene where Mrs Mehra, her mother lovingly looks at her as she gets dressed to go out. But Seth’s conservative Mrs Mehra would have never approved of a skin-baring top, a little ‘too modern’ for the 1950s. In the book she was scandalized when her daughter-in-law wears a sleeveless blouse for a party.
  10. A lot of characters don’t make it to the series, which is understandable, because there would have been no time to do any justice to their arc. But one character who was undeservedly chopped off was that of Imtiaz Khan. While in the book, Maan’s best-friend Firoz has a twin brother Imtiaz, in the series, Firoz has no twin.
  11. Another character that was conspicuous by her absence was Maan’s older sister Veena. I say conspicuous because Veena’s son, the math genius Bhaskar is in the series, but his parents never make an appearance. At one point I wondered if Bhaskar was supposed to be Praan & Savita’s son in the adaptation, but that was not the case. Bhaskar was just like an orphaned child squeezed into the sets.
  12. The Chatterjee clan is also reduced to three siblings. The third brother Dipankar and the youngest brother Tapan are chopped off. I mention this because Tapan was loosely inspired by Vikram Seth’s own life and was a lovable character.
  13. The first communal riots that take place in the book are too simplified in the series. In the book, when a raging Muslim mob makes its way towards an under-construction temple, the police first shoot as a means to ensure that they themselves are not mauled to death and in the hopes that the gun sounds would scare and scatter them. However, in the series, the cops are given specific “shoot at sight” orders from the Home Minister.
  14. The Home Minister is made more villainous and conniving in the series to heighten the drama.
  15. Tasneen is perhaps 17 in the book, or at least still in her late teens, but in the series, the actor looks a little older. And visually, while Tasneen is said to have an innocent aura to her, the actor looks more sultry than the demure damsel from the saga.
  16. Saaeda Bai’s help Bibbo is described as curvy and young in the book. At one point she even manages to seduce Maan into kissing her, a scene that is missing from the series. The on-screen Bibbo is more of a matronly, heavily-built, unlike the impish Bibbo from the book.
  17. Another minor change was that Saeeda Bai, who is a courtesan, only had two accompanying musicians in Vikram Seth’s world. On Nair’s sets, she has four and sometimes even more musicians accompanying her.
  18. Also, while in the book, Saeeda Bai’s sarangi player has his own sub-plot, the musicians are reduced to mere props in the visual narrative.
  19. Meera Nair’s Lata is more decisive and headstrong than Seth’s Lata, which is probably a welcome change. She is less confused about her feelings and more confident.
  20. The character of Kuku was surprisingly plump. Perhaps, Meera Nair tried to keep up with modern sentiments of body acceptance and decided to put Kuku on the heavier side. While I can’t recall Vikram Seth ever writing that Kuku was thin, he did imply that the Chatterjee sisters were very weight conscious.
  21. Another departure from the book is the fact that the Chatterjee sisters decide to match up Lata with their brother Amit even before the two meet. In the book, they do so only after sensing that Amit perhaps likes her.
  22. A similar change — Amit begins to flirt with Lata from their very first conversation in the series. It obviously helps save a lot of time.
  23. In the book, Mrs Mehra heads to Delhi to meet Kalpana to help her with finding a potential groom for Lata. In the series, she goes to Lucknow, this also helps shorten her India tour as both her family friends and some relatives are placed in the city of nawabs.
  24. Kalpana personally suggests and introduces Haresh Khanna to Mrs Mehra as a suitable boy for Lata. Seth made their meet accidental in his tale -Haresh makes a surprise visit to Kalpana in Delhi and Mrs Mehra takes a liking to him.
  25. Waris is very old in the series. In the book, he is young and ‘considered dashing by the women’. In the series, he is balding and in his 40s and is played by an actor who is in his late 40s.
  26. Saeeda sends a letter to Maan asking him to cut short his rural tour and come back to Brahmpur because she misses him. She does no such thing in the book. She doesn’t even write him a letter, let alone ask him to come back.
  27. In the book it is Veena who attends Pul mela with her son Bhaskar, but since Veena is not in the series at all, it’s Pran and wife that are shown with Bhaskar when he gets injured in the tragic Pul Mela stampede.
  28. While in the book, Kabir Durrani identifies Bhaskar at a medical camp and calls up Mahesh Kapoor to tell him the news. In the series, he simply finds Bhaskar and hands the little boy over to Pran and wife.
  29. Maan is unaware of Bhaskar’s injuries at the Pul Mela stampede because he was still in the Ruddhia village and nobody from the family writes to him about it. But in the series, he knows about it and is already in Bhrahmpur.
  30. The fleeting homo-erotic scene between Maan and Firoz in the bed takes place in the Baitar fort in the book. In the series, it takes place in Firoz’s Brahmpur home. Also the dialogue “you think I have planned all this” is said by Firoz in the book, but its Maan who says it in the series.
  31. Varun’s brief fling with Kalpana and his interview for the Indian Administrative service takes place a lot earlier than shown in the novel.
  32. Haresh quits his shoe job without another in hand in the series, which makes him seem more impulsive than he really is. In the book, he takes the step only after finding a better paying offer.
  33. Savita delivers her first baby with Pran anxiously waiting outside for the good news. In the book, Pran himself was hospitalized during the delivery of their baby.
  34. In-fact, Pran is so ill that Savita decides to study law, to avert the fate of being a penniless widow. This sub-plot is missing from the screen.
  35. Which reminds me of another omission, a welcome one at that — nobody in the series harps about how Savita must be pregnant with a boy. In the book, Praan is rather surprised to learn it’s a girl, since everybody kept insisting it was going to be a boy.
  36. Amit does not write “for Lata” in his poetry book. Also, the poem that he writes for her is reduced to four lines in the series.
  37. After communal clashes break out in Brahmpur again, Maan and Firoz originally take shelter in Veena’s home in the book. But in the series they head to Praan’s house.
  38. The sub-plot about Meenakshi’s second pregnancy and her miscarriage is not in the series.
  39. Also, in the book, Meenakshi only pawns off one gold medal, in the series she pawns both of them. This helps in getting rid of off the burglary sub-plot in which the other medal gets lost.
  40. Kabir (Lata’s primary love interest) is made to be a little more romantic in the series. For example — he does not go to Arun’s house in Calcutta to meet Lata in the book, however in the series he does so.
  41. In the book, all three prospective suitors for Lata’s hand — Kabir, Amit, Haresh — meet while watching a cricket match. In the series, they meet outside her brother’s house.
  42. While Maan is able to attend his mother’s last rites in the book, he languishes in jail in the series.
  43. Like I said earlier, the Home Minister is made more villainous. In the book, it is the Home Minister who voluntarily decides to ring up the cops and orders them to escort Maan for his mother’s last rites. But in the series, the Home Minister prevents Maan from leaving prison and denies him the opportunity to say one last goodbye to his beloved mother.
  44. Tasneem overhears Saeeda Bai confessing to Firoz that she they are not sisters but mother and daughter. In the book, she only finds it out through hearsay.
  45. When Haresh invites the Mehra family for Christmas lunch at the Praha club, I distinctly remember that there was no mention at the table about how much it costs. In the series there is an awkward conversation where Mrs Kapoor dramatically declares “this must have cost a fortune!” and Haresh promptly says — “Yes, a month’s salary”.
  46. After Haresh storms out after from Arun’s house because Lata calls him ‘mean’, most of their interaction is only via letters. However, in the series, he meets her in Brahmapur to personally apologise for his behaviour.
  47. Another little new twist is that Haresh sends letters for Lata in Calcutta, but Arun doesn’t pass them on to her. Leading to a minor flash-point between the siblings.
  48. Which brings me to the next disparity — instead of having Arun write a detailed letter to Lata listing Haresh’s cons, Arun is shown to visit Brahmpur. He tells Lata on her face why she must not choose the shoe-maker and lists Haresh’s rather superficial flaws.
  49. There is a rather filmy scene of Lata proposing Haresh to marry her while he is on a train to Calcutta. While it was a fun change, it was also too cliched, since a lot of Hollywood and Bollywood romances tend to have these airport/train station scenes in the climax.
  50. And the last little departure from Seth’s tale — In the novel, the Durrani family is invited to Lata’s wedding but Kabir does not have the heart to attend it. In the series, there is a rather sad scene of a wistful Kabir on his cycle spying on a happy Lata as she is married off to Haresh.

(I originally published a version of this article on Medium)