'A Suitable Boy' Episode 1: Maan falls for Saeeda Bai, but story hints at queer dynamics between him and Firoz
Is there a love triangle in the making? Vikram Seth's book definitely implies a queer undercurrent between Maan and Firoz
Spoilers for ‘A Suitable Boy’ Episode 1
Vikram Seth’s 1993 magnum opus ‘A Suitable Boy’, adapted for the small screen as a limited series by BBC is finally available in the U.S. The story’s main protagonist, Lata Mehra (Tanya Maniktala), is a bubbly young woman of “marriageable age” in post-colonial, post-partition India, who is in search of the eponymous suitable boy. But it is not Lata who intrigues most in the first episode. It is another set of characters.
Presenting Maan (Ishaan Khatter), a happy-go-lucky young lad. Maan takes little seriously. The son of the revenue minister, Maan leads a bubbled existence. Everything is a joke to him. Even as sectarian tension grows in his city because of the construction of a Hindu temple in the vicinity of a Mosque, all Maan can do is laugh at the endeavor. At home, during Holi -- the festival of colors -- Maan manages to earn the ire of the conservative Hindu home minister L.N. Agrawal (Vinay Pathak) by dragging him and drenching him in a fountain of colored water.
Maan is engaged to a woman (who has not been named or shown as of yet), but it would seem that this engagement means little to him. In his words, he tries not to think about it. But why is that? In the early minutes of the episode, we are introduced to a dynamic that might hold the answers. Maan and his friend Firoz (Shubham Saraf) can be seen at his brother’s wedding sharing a tender moment. Firoz looks into Maan’s eyes as they take a quick clandestine sip of alcohol. Firoz even brushes a rose petal off of Maan’s shoulders.
The scene is obviously meant to be queer-coded. As is Maan and Firoz’s friendship in the book. In Seth’s tome, there is nothing explicit about their relationship. They are not shown as gay or bisexual men at all. But there is an ever-present allusion. And this makes for an interesting dynamic. Although some may inadvertently call it queer-baiting. Which is usually not the wrong way to go about it. But there is more to it.
While we saw Firoz’s loving expression as he looks at Maan, we see Maan get the same look for someone else altogether. When he is introduced to the courtesan Saeeda Bai, played by the incomparable Tabu, he falls head-over-heels in love with her. And he openly admits to it. He tells her how much he longs to be with her. And at the end of the episode, the two even sleep together.
So, is this a love triangle in the making -- with Firoz having eyes only for Mann and with Maan unable to see anyone other than Saeeda Bai? While the book does not have this triangle to offer, the show can easily take a different route. After all, adaptations are hardly ever loyal to canon. ‘A Suitable Boy’ also would be a good story to expand upon this relationship. After all, in a country as conservative as India in the 1950s, a queer relationship, especially one between a Hindu and a Muslim man would surely stand out.
The six-part series originally aired in the U.K. on BBC and ran from July 26 to August 24. The series found a global release (excluding the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, Canada, and China) on Netflix on October 23. In the U.S., new episodes of ‘A Suitable Boy’ will air every Monday on Acorn TV.