Tanya Maniktala who plays the heroine Lata in Mira Nair’s affectionate and adroit adaptation of Vikram Seth’s vast epic novel A Suitable Boy talks To Subhash K Jha.
What was it about Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy that attracted you the most?
Everything. Ranging from the charm of the period to the appeal of the characters, all of it just drew me in towards the adaptation, and then obviously the opportunity of working with the legend Mira Nair. Her passion and love for the stories that she narrates definitely translates on screen and is apparent in her work, and the allure to be able to be a part of that story and portray this immensely intricate and layered character on screen! There was no second thought given to not wanting to be a part of this project. I started reading the book when I began my auditioning process.
Lata is the pivotal character in this, arguably the longest novel I’ve read. What according to you makes Lata attractive to three suitors?
Lata’s charm lies in her self-confidence. With her rawness and the fresh perspective that she brings to the table, it’s almost impossible for anybody to not fall in love with her. She has this excitement to experience life and the poise and elegance with which she carries herself without ever putting a thought into it, or consciously trying for it.
What do think attracts three eligible suitors to Lata?
Lata’s mind and her intelligence and just the passion that she embodies – she is like a spark that draws her suitors in. Her old-world charm, her curiosity and the ease with which she is completely and authentically herself, I think all of it gives you an understanding of who Lata really is which is why I don’t think Lata went with the safest choice, but with whom she saw that she could grow.
Yes, I wonder why she chose whom she did?
Lata has a strong sense of self and her relationship with the three different suitors gave her an insight into what she truly wanted. She valued that sense of self and with the suitor that she ultimately goes with, she sees that even he would be identify with it and could always sort of balance and ground each other. They both had in their past experienced the feeling of being in love and also the heartbreak that came with it, which I feel definitely brought Lata closer to him and understand that he wasn’t really different from her and who would understand what she’s been through. He brought a calmness to their relationship that Lata felt was missing with the other two suitors, and the possibility of potentially falling in love and growing together was more valuable to her than anything else.
Match-making and arranged marriages form the backbone of the plot. In real life would you consider an arranged marriage? How practical is it in today’s day and age?
When it comes to choosing your partner I think none of us would be opposed to the idea of meeting people and now if that happens through your parents or an online dating site or just any other way, I don’t think it would matter as long as the end result is the same. We have shown arranged marriages in a certain light that now the mindset is such that we associate arranged marriages with a lack of love, which is not true. It is a very practical way to meet people because you know the other person is also coming into it with the same expectations. It is just another prospect for meeting people and in no way means that you have to go with the first person that comes your way, like any other platform. You explore your options and take your time with your decision.
Mira Nair auditioned innumerable known and unknown actors for Lata’s role. What was it like to be the chosen one?
Haha, it is funny now that I think about it, because I never really thought that I had a shot at getting this role. But like it’s said – the best things in life happen when you least expect them. I am so incredibly grateful for this opportunity and that she saw in me the potential to be able to play one of the most beautifully written characters who is the heart of this book that has worldwide acclaim and who will now in the tv series adaptation of it would be the face of a major BBC show. I had never in my wildest dreams imagined that this could happen to me, and all I feel is gratitude. With such a great role though came a lot of pressure as well of the expectations with this character, but Mira di always reminded me that you have to learn to let go of those expectations and play the character with the truth and honesty that’s within you, and that has been my biggest takeaway – to learn to dissociate yourself from the expectations around you and speak your own truth.
Your co-stars are a fabulous ensemble of skilled actors. Who were your favourites and whom did you bond with the best?
I couldn’t have asked for a better team! It was such a joy to work with each one of them! Not just the cast, but the entire crew as well. We had people on the team who had been working with Mira di for more than 30 years and that speaks volumes about the kind of person she is. She brings together such a great bunch of people and acts as this binding force, and you all just fit together like pieces of a puzzle. There is always a harmony on set and a shared ‘mission’ to be part of something that is much bigger than any of us and to do it to the best of your abilities. It was a flow of positive energy and good vibes and supporting each other in a way to bring to the table your A game. I have taken from this show people who I know I can rely on and go to anytime when I need help and with whom I know the pathway to communication is always open.
What preparations did you make to play Lata? Did you read up on the era? Listen to the songs of that period?
I had this marathon of a novel to constantly go back to whenever I needed help with understanding my characters frame of a mind in that particular situation. So, definitely when you have this ‘holy book’ to refer to and seek help from, the job gets much easier. Another very important point that Mira di always insisted on the fact that she did not want any of her actors to be “playing the period” and rather just focusing on the character. According to her when you start ‘playing’ something it becomes untrue and we wanted our characters and our portrayal of them as authentic as possible. So, my focus was constantly to bring to the forefront the truth of my character rather than anything else and the rest of it happened along the way. Obviously the spectacular costumers by our head of costumes – Arjun Bhasin, the incredible locations and set designing by Stephanie Carrol did most of our job for us to transport us back into that era and we never had to consciously work on it. And yes, I would watch documentaries to understand the way people talked and kind of bring that into my speech.
Is acting your chosen vocation for keeps? Are you working on something else?
Haha I would definitely want to keep working on my craft, and this is just the beginning of it all. I want to explore myself and experiment with the kind of roles I do in the future and just implore my own potential. I am currently reading for different projects, so hopefully something exciting will happen very soon.
Would you like to work in Bollywood? Who are on your wishlist?
I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea, be it Bollywood or any other outlet as long as the content that is bring created excites me. I would love to work with Konkana Sen Sharma, both as an actor and also her directing me. Vidya Balan, Kalki, Rajkumar Rao, Anurag Kashyap, Shoojit Sircar, Imtiaz Ali. Haha the list is long.
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