The Daily Telegraph
The BBC’S Indian summer finally finds its funny bone
The comedy in A Suitable Boy (BBC One) has always been its weakest element – as am-dram as the Twelfth Night performance featured in last night’s episode. But that changed thanks to Haresh, the shoe manufacturer who might just win Lata’s heart.
As played by Namit Das, he is really quite loveable – ambitious yet artless in his smart suit and tie pin, and just the right level of comical. Das keeps his performance relatively understated, which can’t be said for everyone in the cast. In this episode’s best scene, he accidentally punctured the pomposity of frightful snob Arun (Vivek Gomber), who had been banging on about the wonders of Hamleys, by forcing him to admit that he’d never actually been to England.
Lata doesn’t have any romantic chemistry with Haresh, but she is not supposed to. She is supposed to have it with Kabir the dishy cricketer and Amit the pretentious poet, but doesn’t. I’m not quite sure if this is the fault of the director, Mira Nair, or the inexperience of the actress, Tanya Maniktala, who is in all other respects a breath of fresh air. But her scenes don’t exactly burn with passion. When she and Kabir talk about being in love with each other it fails to ring true.
The adaptation is not without other faults. The crowd scenes, for example, patently feature very small crowds – the mass stampede at the Pul Mela should be terrifying, but here the main thing you notice is the dearth of extras. Presumably the budget, however generous, could not stretch that far. The dialogue can be stilted, with the cast reaching for Anglicised, 1950s accents, and often the switch to Hindi or Urdu feels more natural (for reasons that make sense, the upper middleclasses speak in English, while the other languages are reserved for the lower orders). And yet it fits so comfortably into the cosy Sunday night slot, and has such old-fashioned charm, that it can be forgiven for its shortcomings. It is Downton-style, comfort TV.
The real star of the series is Ishaan Khatter as the hot-headed Maan. Screenwriter Andrew Davies is fond of saying that he inserts a bath scene into every period drama, and Maan was the chosen one here. When the drama focuses on Maan’s story – the infatuation with a courtesan many years his senior, the turbulent relationship with his politician father, and the intriguing friendship with Firoz that hints at a romantic past – it is absorbing.
Ah, the toddler years. A time of potty training, sleepless nights and tantrums (theirs, but possibly yours too) in the frozen food aisle. When you can never leave the house without wet wipes and spare pants, or sit down for a plane journey without preemptively apologising to everyone around you. I recall smugly congratulating myself on having a beautifully-behaved child who had never succumbed to the Terrible Twos, until they struck during a holiday and she did a protest wee in the hotel lobby. Appropriately, the production company behind Toddlers Behaving (Very) Badly (Channel 5) previously made Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly. Similar issues.
This new series is essentially Supernanny with a woman called Laura Amies replacing Jo Frost. Amies is, shall we say, inspired by Frost – the smart appearance, the no-nonsense delivery. She arrives on the doorstep of despairing parents, diagnoses their problems in a matter of minutes and magically transforms their children’s behaviour. She’s so good at it that she can do three kids in an hour-long episode, if the show is to be believed.
In all cases, Amies concluded that the parents, rather than the child, were at fault. That’s not to say they were bad parents, but they were simply so mired in it that they couldn’t step back and see what needed to be done. One couple spent hours every night trying to put their daughter, Riley, to bed. They read her a stack of stories, said an individual goodnight to each of her 30 toys, then hung around on the landing waiting to soothe her when she cried. Amies recommended controlled crying and the parents reluctantly agreed. After less than half an hour, Riley stopped howling, tucked herself up and went to sleep.
Then there was James, who couldn’t see a door without bolting through it and heading for the horizon, and Callis, who behaved like a terror without facing any consequences. Supernanny – sorry – Amies, sorted it all out. From a distance, this is only passably interesting. But if you’re going through these problems right now, the show might be a godsend.
A Suitable Boy ★★★★
Toddlers Behaving (Very) Badly ★★★