BBC FINDS SUITABLE DRAMA IN SETH NOVEL 

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By FROM AMIT ROY in London
  • Published 2.03.02
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London, March 2 :    London, March 2:  One of BBC Radio's most ambitious projects, a dramatisation of Vikram Seth's best-selling, A Suitable Boy, done in five weekly parts each an hour long, gets under way tomorrow in Britain. What is generally reckoned to be the longest novel in the English language - the first edition ran to 1,366 pages - was adapted for radio by John Dryden who has also produced and directed the project. Another of Dryden's feats was to get the entire cast of 48 actors, all Asian, into "huge house owned by HH Maharaj Siriraj of Dhrangadhara" in Pune, where the drama was mainly recorded, with the sounds of India lending colour and atmosphere to the dialogue. By recording in Pune, Dryden felt he would get his cast to behave in a more authentic Indian manner. Having a captive cast served a more practical purpose. "If I had recorded in a studio in London or Mumbai, they would have been looking at their watches, wanting to get away for lunch or dinner." Dryden explained: "The recording was made as the actors physically acted out the story in its rooms and courtyards." The central character of Lata, the girl for whom her mother, Mrs Rupa Mehra, is seeking a suitable marriage partner, is played by Ayesha Dharker. The role of one of her suitors, Haresh Khanna, a shoemaker, has gone to the filmmaker and actor, Rahul Bose. Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal has been cast as Mrs Rupa Mehra (she begins the novel by telling Lata: "You too will marry a boy I choose."); Ayeesha Menon as Savita, Lata's elder married sister, whose husband, Pran Kapoor, is played by Joy Sengupta; Rajat Kapoor as Amit Chatterjee, the Calcutta poet; and Lovleen Mishra as Malati, Lata's best friend. Roshan Seth doubles up as Dr Nuruddin, a homeopathic doctor, as well as Mr Sahgal, one of Lata's sleazy uncles. Among the other Chatterjis of Calcutta, Radhika da Cunha has been cast as Meenakshi, Amit's married sister; and Devika Shahane as Kuku, their younger sister. Vikram Seth himself, who has had a busy time lately soothing the irascible V.S. Naipaul at the writers' meet in Neemrana, stayed out of the whole project. Dryden made a remarkable confession to The Telegraph: "I have spoken to him a number of times, he seemed quite happy but I have never met him." Dryden spent all of last year in India, his first visit to the country, putting together the dramatisation. He admitted the difficulty of compressing such a huge novel, which is set in 1950s' India and uses the lives and loves of its characters to tell the story of a continent emerging from the departure of the British and the trauma of Partition. "For those who have encountered A Suitable Boy and are wondering how such a vast work could be condensed into five hours, the truth is, of course, that it can't," he said. "I found myself amazed that such a compelling and complete universe, so vast and so amiably peopled, could have emerged from a single mind. I quickly realised that the adaptation would be a small part of the novel's sum, the epic themes of politics, race and religion becoming a backdrop to Lata's (and several other characters') intense experiences of relationships and love." This is not the first time that A Suitable Boy has been adapted for Radio. Actor Saeed Jaffrey acted out all the parts in a version broadcast on BBC World Service Radio, and Seth himself has read extracts, though not very convincingly, in an audiotape version. At one point, Channel 4 planned to make a dramatisation for television, but it was killed as it was apparently not happy with the script. Others speculated that a British TV audience was not yet ready for a soap with an entirely Asian cast.