A copywriter who was preparing to go to Melbourne for her higher studies, one day, landed on the sets of A Suitable Boy, directed by Mira Nair, as the lead character Lata Mehra. Ever since, largely unknown Tanya Maniktala came to be known as the star of what is inarguably the most exciting text-to-screen adaptation of Indian fiction in recent times. Based on Vikram Seth’s monumental work of the same name, A Suitable Boy is Lata’s story set in 1951 in the backdrop of a post-independence India, where her widowed mother is looking for ‘a suitable boy’ for her. Besides Maniktala, the show also features Tabu, Ishaan Khatter, Shahana Goswami, Ram Kapoor, Rasika Dugal, Vijay Varma, Namit Shah, Mikhail Sen and Randeep Hooda among others.
Hours ahead of the show’s release on Netflix, Maniktala is nervous about her family and friends watching her on screen. She says they will be her biggest critics. Slipping into the central role of Lata, the 23-year-old Delhi girl spoke to indianexpress.com about being Lata and why the character and story are still relevant.
Excerpts from the conversation:
The show has already garnered global recognition after airing on BBC, but how excited are you about the Indian reaction.
I am extremely excited about the Netflix release. Engaging with a much wider audience, especially in India, makes my heart palpate. Deep inside, I am more nervous than being excited. Even though I am humbled by the global recognition, I am bracing myself for the Indian reaction and what’s coming next. My family, who is just coming to terms with me becoming an actor, will be my biggest critics. For now, I am pacifying myself and trying to be calm about it.
You are the binding factor of the entire series. Did you feel the pressure of performance, especially when surrounded by well-established actors?
Yes, I did. But the pressure came from nobody else except me. Initially, it was very overwhelming to know that I’ll be playing the lead role with so many well-established actors around me. I set standards for myself, to match up to their level. So, the anxiousness was always there. But Mira di and all other cast members were extremely supportive, and they told me to keep in mind just one thing, that I am chosen for a reason and that this role is meant for me. So, I remember taking my first shot where Lata is going for a poetry meeting and meets her tutor for the first time. I was wearing a saree and I had to run towards the hall. A very easy take but because I was nervous, it wasn’t so easy for me. That very scene sort of eased me into rest of the shooting and I thoroughly enjoyed the three-month shoot.
Do you think the series is relevant in 2020, in terms of interfaith marriage, relationships and women making their own choices?
It absolutely is. I think the past always repeats itself, and I feel we keep going around the same circle. I think every Indian household, even today, will have a mother like Lata has in A Suitable Boy. The concept of arranged marriage is still very much alive in India, where parents consider it as a pride to find a groom or bride for their children. A Suitable Boy is more about the feelings and their relationships, which is timeless, so no matter, what year, I feel it’ll always be relevant in India. I myself was so inspired by the character of Lata, of her urge to seek freedom and independence. She is a woman who makes her own choices, and I am sure Lata will inspire many young girls today who are learning to be independent.
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Lata – The kind of free spirit who wouldn’t dare to exist in the time that she did. #ASuitableBoy, premieres 23rd October, only on Netflix. @netflix_in @pagliji, @tabutiful, @ishaankhatter, @tanyamaniktala, @iamramkapoor, @pathakvinay, @itsvijayvarma, @shahanagoswami, @mahirakakkar, @namitdas, @ranvirshorey, @rasikadugal, @manoj_pahwa29, @therealvivaanshah, @randeephooda, @mikhail.sen, @joyeeta_dutta @bbcstudios @danesh.razvi @sheeba.chadha #VikramSeth #GaganDevRiar #VivekGomber #ShubhamSaraf #AameerBashir #KulbhushanKharbanda #AndrewDavies
What was your takeaway from the sets of A Suitable Boy?
Definitely, the people and the team I worked with. I have made great friends. Shahana and I connect so well. I’m so grateful that Mira di put together this great team that was always supportive of this new talent who is very unaware of what she’s supposed to do and what is expected of her. So I’m grateful because I found this great family who is always looking out for me. Just living Lata was a true honour for me.
I am looking forward to something really exciting. I hope it materialises well. As an artiste, good work is all that we can hope for. I am still coming to terms with calling myself a full-time actor (Laughs). Let’s see what lies ahead. But right now, the stress level of the Netflix release is on another level.
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