'A Suitable Boy’s' Accent Coach Explains Why Its Actors Sound The Way They Do

Ankur Pathak
·2-min read
A still from 'A Suitable Boy'
A still from 'A Suitable Boy'

MUMBAI — “Iye dawn’t think Iye ever wont to get married,” Tanya Maniktala’s Lata Mehra tells her mother as they watch Lata’s sister Savita’s bridal farewell.

“What else are yew going to dooo?” her mother responds.

It’s 2020 and we’re watching Mira Nair’s long-awaited adaptation of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy that premiered on Netflix this Friday, October 23. But it feels that the ghost of Peter Sellers, whose brown-face Indian-origin character Hrundi V Bakshi in the 1968 British film The Party set the tone for brown stereotyping, hasn’t quite left us.

As the Twitterati gets its teeth into the show, the accents in A Suitable Boy are bound to attract much comment.

But Hetal Varia, Mumbai-based voice, dialect and accent consultant who worked in A Suitable Boy has a more provocative thesis: This is what Indians speaking English in the 1950s sounded like.

It is up to you to believe her, but Varia said a lot of research went into developing how each character in Vikram Seth’s sprawling novel speaks.

A Suitable Boy takes place in the 1950s in post-independent India. The language we spoke then was English, of course, but it was still spoken by Indians for whom it wasn’t the first language,” said Varia, who has a masters degree in Voice Studies from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

“The important thing to remember is that most characters in A Suitable Boy are from very well-bred families and their manner of speech is inherently different,” she said.
For modern viewers, A Suitable Boy’s dialogues feel unnatural and theatrical — as if the actors are over-emphasising the words for fear of them not coming across as clearly as they’d like to. The over-enunciation also sounds uncomfortably like Indian actors sounding the way a western Netflix executive or BBC suit would expect them to sound.

Hetal acknowledges that part of her brief was to make the dialogue more accessible.

“What for you is over-enunciation, for...

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