In an unusual year, the Toronto International Film Festival concludes on Sunday with an unusual choice: Its closing night presentation isn't a movie, but the TV series A Suitable Boy, adapted by Indian-origin director Mira Nair from Vikram Seth's classic novel.
The screening spans six hours, covering the entire series produced for BBC, with two intermissions of 20-minutes each for those attending in person.
Nair said she was "delighted" when TIFF chose to make this the first-ever TV project to close the festival in its 45-year history. Nair said this was the only format to do justice to Seth's monumental work: "A Suitable Boy cannot be a two-and-a-half hour film, it should not be. It should be at least six hours, in the way I've tried to do it but it could be even longer."
While the novel was first published in 1993, many of its themes remain relevant, including that of communal faultlines. In fact, Nair took the original "distillation" of the novel and "brought a lot of politics back from the story of the novel" rather than making it just one about the protagonist Lata having to choose from among three suitors.
"I love that part of it, but it was important for me to see Lata almost as the new India. So, as the country moved towards its first election, Lata moves towards finding herself."
The novel is set in the period right after Independence and syncretic culture is the foundation of the series.
"I did really want to hold a mirror in a way to the young of today to see what we were, even though we had just come out of the trauma of Partition," she said.
There was a "depth of relationships that today are really being threatened just by the politicisation of it all," she said.
Nair has already been feted at TIFF this year with the Tribute Award, along with actors Kate Winslet, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and director Chloe Zhao.
Tanya Maniktala, who plays Lata, was chosen as one of TIFF's Rising Stars. Of casting the young actor in the pivotal role, Nair said that other than her hypnotic eyes and amazing smile, she had the kind of "fluttery innocence" that was difficult to find among young women these days.
The author has two meaningful words for the director about the series – "Thank you," Nair said of Seth's reaction.
"I don't speak for him, but I think he's very satisfied."
New York-based Nair was unable to make it in person for the closing night screening due to ongoing restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic. The series has been acquired by Netflix and Nair said she is hopeful it will be available to an Indian audience "very soon."