'A Suitable Boy' Episode 2: 'Love Jihad' controversy and how show reflects Hindu-Muslim divide in India today
The show’s protagonist Lata Mehra, an upper-caste Hindu woman of 'marriageable age', falls in love with a Muslim man, Kabir Durrani, leaving her mother appalled
Spoilers for ‘A Suitable Boy’ Episode 2
‘A Suitable Boy’, which had an earlier release in India on Netflix, has already courted controversy there. The show that is based in 1950 in India, a nascent Independent nation that was about to have its first general election, has many themes to it. Class critique, sectarian strife, a sharp focus on misogynistic attitudes, and prevalent social stigmas are but a few of the things that the show manages to cast a harsh glare on.
But the one that caused the most controversy has to do with religious endogamy and supposedly hurt religious sentiments. At present, India is a tinderbox of sectarian tensions. The central government formed by the right-wing, nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), stands accused of being Islamophobic, besides being regularly referred to as an ur-fascist regime by its critics in the opposition, the media, and civil society.
And under this regime, a long-standing Hindu-right bogey has been resurrected and legitimized. “Love Jihad” refers to an unproven conspiracy theory where Muslim men (a religious minority in the country) supposedly try to woo and convert Hindu women to Islam through trickery and false expressions of love. With “Love Jihad” laws being passed in BJP-ruled states, there is a visible effort to assert Hindu endogamy and reject interfaith relationships and marriages.
Naturally, ‘A Suitable Boy’ touches a tender nerve. The show’s protagonist Lata Mehra (Tanya Maniktala), an upper-caste Hindu woman of "marriageable age", falls in love with a Muslim man, Kabir Durrani (Danesh Razvi). While in real life, Lata and Kabir’s on-screen kiss, with a Hindu temple in the backdrop has led to outrage and even a police case against two Netflix officials, within the show as well, things are decidedly in the same vein.
Lata’s love for Kabir elicits an expected but nonetheless strong reaction from her mother (Mahira Kakkar). When she initially discovers that her daughter was getting involved with a man she had no idea about, she was distraught. But upon discovering he was Muslim, she positively boils with rage. She slaps Lata and then takes her away from Brahmapur to Kolkata to live with her sons, so as to make sure she was nowhere in the vicinity of Kabir.
Lata’s mother may not have subscribed to what is now referred to as “Love Jihad”. But she sure was appalled at the idea of her daughter in a relationship with a Muslim man. In that way, the show practically mirrors present-day India where interfaith couples are doxxed and harassed online, and on occasion, even physically abused and killed. The show reflects a socio-political condition that seems to have changed not one bit (or perhaps only exacerbated) in the 70 years between the setting of the story and now.
‘A Suitable Boy’ can easily be critiqued for many reasons -- including its fidelity to the Vikram Seth novel it’s based on -- but in capturing the charged zeitgeist of that era and today, the show does a tremendous job. This show is not the first piece of media to be attacked in the name of “Love Jihad” or even for just depicting Hindu-Muslim unity. Nor will it be the last. Ads for detergents and jewelry brands have faced the ire of right-wing mobs online. But perhaps, ‘A Suitable Boy’ will likely remain the biggest name to have offended the conservatives. And that might just be a victory, considering it is the very idea that the story attempts to critique.
New episodes of the six-part limited series will air on Acorn TV every Monday.