Namit Das: Felt a bit cheated with the book A Suitable Boy's ending
Even as he disagrees with the novel's resolution, Namit Das on bringing the hero alive on screen in Mira Nair's A Suitable Boy.
When you sit through nearly 1,500 pages of Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy, you expect a fairy tale ending. But Seth doesn't give his readers the pleasure — in a surprising climax, an unlikely suitor by the name of Haresh Khanna marries the feisty protagonist, Lata Mehra, even as the readers root for her union with her college sweetheart, Kabir Durrani. In an interview, the author had famously stated that he himself questioned his heroine's decision to marry Haresh.
As Mira Nair brings the book to life as a BBC series by the same name, we ask Namit Das, who plays Haresh, if he struggled to imbibe the character that suffers from an inherent disadvantage. "I questioned [the climax] myself when I first read the book in 2015. After 1,500 pages, you feel a bit cheated with the ending," he quips.
Of course, he is assured that Nair, with her mastery over the craft, will be able to sell the unconventional couple with conviction. The auteur has another advantage — she shares a deep bond with Seth, whose creation Haresh was inspired by his father, Prem Seth. "Vikram is one of the producers on the show, and we spent a considerable amount of time on set with him. As I went through the process of filmmaking, I realised that Haresh is modelled on Vikram's father. One has to understand that the unusual romance between Leila Seth and her husband Prem is mirrored in the book through the union of Lata and Harish. Even in Leila Seth's autobiography On Balance, there's a chapter that draws similarities between Haresh and Vikram's father. Mira is close to Vikram and his family, so all the characters have been designed with a personal touch."
The prep wasn't easy for Das, who had to transform into a paan-chewing shoemaker from a bygone era. "I learnt the art of shoemaking, in theory. I would sit with a cobbler on the cobbled street near [Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj] Terminus and practise mending shoes. Mira was also sure that she wanted us to be comfortable in the clothes that we would be wearing at shoot. [Since the book depicts the '50s] I got high-waist pants at home and used to sleep in them. I did this so that when at shoot, I had a lived-in experience and it didn't look like I was trying them on for the first time."
Even as Nair has brought together a powerful ensemble cast that includes Tabu, Ishaan Khatter and Vijay Varma, it is inevitable that some characters from the literary world haven't made the transition to screen. "Andrew Davies [writer] and Mira have managed to keep the essence of the novel intact," states the actor, adding that the director is "brilliant at adaptations". "The Namesake  is a masterpiece. She beautifully blends the Indian culture with the understanding of the Western world. Her focus is always on characters who take the story ahead, which is why her ensemble films work perfectly."
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