‘A Suitable Boy’ on Netflix relives the present more than the past...  

For Muslims at least, especially young Muslims in India, watching Mira Nair’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ is more like reliving the present, writes a Law student in Jamia

‘A Suitable Boy’ on Netflix relives the present more than the past...   
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Safiyat Naseem

The six part mini series directed by Mira Nair on Netflix, titled “A Suitable Boy”, an adaptation of Vikram Seth’s novel of the same title, isn’t really as brilliant as one expected. The characters do not grow on you and the plot doesn’t keep much suspense alive.

Yet I binge wached it and was moved to tears because to a young, Muslim woman, it was so real. It was almost as if the film was not about the newly independent country after Partition but about the 73-year old country in 2020.

Political clashes, Hindu-Muslim riots, hatred for the other, bigotry, the stigma attached to love between a Hindu and a Muslim, the utter lack of empowerment of women and gender discrimination are all there. It was a shock to realise that nothing has changed in seven decades. We are still there in 1947.

The very first episode has Muslims who stayed back in India demanding a peaceful place to pray and their solitary mosque to be left alone. But of course a Hindu temple had to come up next door. Spite or triumphalism, I recoiled as I remembered the demolition of Babri Masjid and the Supreme Court’s recent judgement and acquittal of the accused by the CBI court.

Maan goes to the village with Rasheed and acknowledges the miseries of farmers and labourers, the atrocities on women and workers. It did not come as a shock or did not appear as something new. My thoughts went to the Farm Bill 2020, the egregious condition of the working class following the pandemic, the walk back home by the migrants and the indifference of the Government and society. I recalled the Hathras case and other gangrapes and sexual harassment. I could have been a 80-year old reliving the past. But I was reliving the present.

Rasheed touched a chord when he tells Maan “Aur bhi dukh hain Zamane mai mohabbat ke siva” (There are many other sorrows in this world besides love).

A later episode realistically recreated a Hindu-Muslim riot as the two groups came to blows when one in the crowd brushed against another from the other commnity. As Maan and Firoz ran for their lives, I not only remembered the Delhi riots in February, 2020 but also Jamia Millia Islamia on 15th December 2019.

I remembered hiding under the table in the old library where Delhi Police showered us with tear gas shells.

When Maan and Firoz get caught by the riotous mob, they are asked to recite the Gayatri Mantra to prove they were not Muslim. Maan obliged, believing that would save his and Firoz’s life. But Firoz failed to recite it. I remembered the viral videos that showed people and mobs forcing Muslims to say Jai Mata Di and Jai Shri Ram.

We see Lata falling in love with his schoolmate, Kabir Durrani. She refuses to heed warnings and decides to follow her heart. As predicted, her mother took her away from the city to find her a suitable boy, and definitely not a Muslim. The Tanishq advertisement flashed through my mind. The advertisement had to be withdrawn because the inter-faith marriage hurt ‘religious sentiment’.

The brutality of the police firing on peaceful protestors, the mechanical proceedings in Parliament and the nonchalance of the Government were all too familiar. My thoughts again turned to Jamia in December, 2019.

Jamia was a symbol of nationalism and resistance to tyranny. The country was free. People had freedom of expression.

But in 2020, as I watched A Suitable Boy, I realized with some horror that Jamia and JNU are deemed anti-national universities; Islam is synonymous with terrorism, people are of no consequence, freedom of speech is a myth and the Supreme Leader is God.

(The writer is a final year Law student at Jamia Millia)

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