TV review: A Suitable Boy is Pride and Prejudice in a sari

Billy Foley

Billy Foley

Billy has almost 30 years’ experience in journalism after leaving DCU with a BAJ. He has worked at the Irish Independent, Evening Herald and Sunday Independent in Dublin, the Cork-based Evening Echo and the New Zealand Herald. He joined the Irish News in 2000, working as a reporter and then Deputy News Editor. He has been News Editor since 2007

Tanya Maniktala plays Lata Mehra in A Suitable Boy.  (C) Lookout Point - Photographer: Ishaan Nair/Sharbendu De
Tanya Maniktala plays Lata Mehra in A Suitable Boy. (C) Lookout Point - Photographer: Ishaan Nair/Sharbendu De

A Suitable Boy, BBC 1, Sunday

India is but a few years independent, the schism with Pakistan has cost perhaps a million lives and the sun has set on the British empire.

India is the most glorious and puzzling of all countries, yet the first BBC drama set in the swirling, throbbing sub-continent gives us Pride and Prejudice in a sari.

Vikram Seth’s huge novel, which is set in the years after Indian independence in 1947, has been adapted into a six-part television series.

It opens at a wedding where 19-year-old Lata Mehra sees her older sister enter an arranged marriage to the younger brother of her university lecturer. She is studying English in Calcutta and is determined not to follow suit.

She has found a very unsuitable boy. He is handsome, intelligent and sporty, but also a Muslim, an unthinkable alliance for a Hindu.

Lata tries to break off the relationship, standing him up on a date at a poetry recital, but Kabir is persistent and episode one closes with a kiss.

The background to the troubling romance is the new India. Lata’s father is a local government minister and tries his best to soften the edges of Hindu nationalists who are constructing a temple beside the local mosque.

He invites the radical home office minister to his home, but things go wrong when his son Maan inexplicably pushes him into a fountain during the Holi festival. Maan also pursues famous singer Saeeda and begins a relationship with the much older woman.

The local Muslim community, led by a friend of Lata’s father, protest at the construction of the temple and are met by overwhelming force on the orders of the home minister. Twenty people are shot dead, although the minister is unperturbed and when challenged suggests that “a little discipline can be a good thing”.

All the while, Lata’s mother is determined to find a suitable husband for her youngest daughter.

It’s the most traditional of themes. Love versus culture, family and religion.

Lata (Tanya Maniktala) is a character who could be in a stately home in England in the 1800s, or for that matter in a Maeve Binchy novel where Irish women sought love and independence in the deeply conservative Ireland of the 1950s and 60s.

This ground has been extensively covered by all manner of period dramas and A Suitable Boy, which perhaps had radical intentions, is another one to add to the list.


The Young Offenders, BBC Three/iPlayer

They used to talk about the difficult third album, for The Young Offenders it’s the troubling third series.

There is a necessary pact with the audience here.

We know that loveable rogues Jock and Connor don’t represent the real Cork underclass, but we need a little connection with reality.

We can just about believe they could make a living from stealing bikes while their mum is in a relationship with the local Garda but bringing baby Star on a robbery broke the spell.

When Siobhan has to attend a teaching awards ceremony with her father, Jock is left with a glorious chance to prove himself as a capable father.

The only problem is it coincides with Billy’s plan to liberate some televisions from a local retailer.

The threesome are to back Billy’s van up against the delivery truck and while the driver is distracted by a call from his girlfriend (Billy in a high-pitched voice), the televisions are transferred.

The caper is of course complicated by the need for nappy changes, bottle feeds and a lost baby.

Episodes two (Sergeant Healy thinks he has the boys cornered) and three (a trip to Dublin for family therapy) improve but The Young Offenders has some making up to do.